Health service unions and management in talks aimed at cutting pay bill

Unions propose alternative to Croke Park II

Kieran Mulvey is chairing the talks between  management and health sector unions today in what is likely to be the final attempt to agree a deal on reducing the State’s pay bill in this area in advance of the Monday  deadline. Photograph:  Alan Betson/The Irish Times

Kieran Mulvey is chairing the talks between management and health sector unions today in what is likely to be the final attempt to agree a deal on reducing the State’s pay bill in this area in advance of the Monday deadline. Photograph: Alan Betson/The Irish Times

 

Crucial talks are getting underway today between management and unions in the health service in what is likely to be the final attempt to agree a deal on reducing the State’s pay bill in this area in advance of a deadline of Monday set by the Government.

Most unions representing staff in the health service rejected the proposed Croke Park II agreement aimed at generating savings of €300 million this year and €1 billion over three years on the overall public service pay and pensions bill.

Unions representing doctors and nurses have put forward alternative proposals which they maintain could generate savings without the need to reduce earnings for staff or increase their working hours.

This plan is understood to involve nurses taking over some duties such as phlebotomy services which are currently carried out by non-consultant hospital doctors.

The proposals to be discussed today are also likely to include the introduction of a system of “annualised hours” for health service staff which would reduce expenditure on overtime and agency personnel.

Studies carried out by the Irish Medical Organisation are reported to have found that up to 30 per of work carried out by non-consultant doctors is inappropriate for them and could be performed by other groups.

The HSE currently pays out around €166 million in overtime for doctors.

It is understood that health service management will seek to explore the details of the union proposals to determine whether they realise the level of savings suggested and if they are deliverable from an operational perspective.

The HSE in its budget for this year has earmarked savings of more than €20 million from the re-configuration of non-consultant doctor workload.

Its budget is also based on generating savings of €150 million from the Croke Park II proposals.

The talks today form part of moves by the Labour Relations Commission to determine whether an a negotiated solution can be found to reducing the pay and pensions bill.

LRC chief executive Kieran Mulvey is to report to the Government on his meetings with all public service groups on Monday.

If no agreement can be reached, Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Brendan Howlin is expected to bring proposals to the Cabinet on Tuesday on unilateral measures to achieve the savings on the pay bill.

This is likely to involve pay cuts, a freeze on increments and reducing on premium payments.

On Thursday nurses said they would ballot for industrial action if the Government unilaterally moved to cut their earnings.