Pay rates in voluntary sector must be improved to address recruitment crisis, Minister says

‘Vital’ that voluntary and charitable organisations are recognised with pay deal, Anne Rabbitte says

A pay deal that enables voluntary and charitable organisations to deliver services on behalf of the HSE is “vital” if the issues of recruitment and retention are to be addressed, Minister of State for Health Anne Rabbitte has said.

Workers in the sector, who have been involved in a long-running dispute with the Department of Health and Government, say they enjoyed pay parity with colleagues working in similar roles in the public service for many years but lost it in the aftermath of the financial crisis. Workers say they have now fallen far behind those who have public servant status.

The organisations, known as Section 39s, are generally fully funded by Government, often through the department, or provide specifically funded services on their behalf. However, the organisations say they have not received the required increases to match pay rises achieved in the public sector under recent national agreements.

Many of their workers say that it took years to get back to the level of pay they were receiving in 2008 and that they have not had an actual increase since then.


The upshot, the trade union Fórsa says, is huge turnovers of staff as many social, community and health workers leave roles to take similar, but significantly better paid ones with the HSE or other public bodies.

Talks have been ongoing in recent months and some agreement has been reached with the parties due back in the Workplace Relations Commission on June 12th.

“I do welcome the engagement in the process, but there is no doubt particularly in the disability sector, where we have a large number of Section 39s, we are finding it very difficult to recruit and to retain,” Ms Rabbitte said at the Fórsa Health and Welfare conference in Galway on Friday.

“And I know that’s right across all health, but particularly under Section 39s.

“Some of my respite facilities are closed at the moment and that is because the providers are struggling to recruit because of the wage conditions. So this process is vital,” she said.

“It’s vital we come to a conclusion on it and it is vital that the 39s are recognised in their pay arrangements.”

Earlier, Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly also acknowledged “the incredibly important work” staff at the organisations carried out, adding that neither the country’s social services or its health services could be run without them.

Responding to his speech at the Fórsa conference, the union’s head of health sector, Ashley Connolly, said talks aimed at resolving the situation had gone on far too long and that it was up to the department to put adequate proposals on the table.

In the meantime, Ms Connolly said “employers in the sector have reported an annual 30 per cent churn of staff”.

“The revolving door sees one member of staff walk out just as another is hired, driving up recruitment costs and disrupting the ability of these agencies to meet service demands, and driving up waiting lists. It needs to stop,” Ms Connolly said.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times