Siptu members employed by the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) are on strike from care centres across the country on Tuesday due to a pay dispute.
The members are demanding their first wage rise in 14 years and voted 97 per cent to 3 per cent last week to conduct a work stoppage.
Siptu public administration and community division organiser Adrian Kane said it was with “heavy heart” the members decided to conduct industrial action to advance their claim for a pay rise.
The workers were facing “hardship” due to not having a pay rise while the cost of living continued to rise, Mr Kane said.
Without a pay rise, “the future of IWA and the vital services it provides” was also threatened, he said.
“This dispute is a direct result of a failure by the Government to engage with unions representing workers throughout the care and community sector on pay and conditions.”
Mr Kane said the strike was part of “a wider coordinated campaign of upcoming industrial action across the care and community sector”.
If workers in the sector did not receive a pay rise, the State faced “a flow of workers out of the care and community sector and a decline in the services they provide which will adversely affect some of the most vulnerable in our society”.
Siptu activist Deborah Walsh works as an IWA personal assistant which involves “going out into the community and caring for people in their homes”.
“We do their personal care such as toileting and showering. We also do social hours, that is bringing members who live in the community out to do things such as shopping or go to the cinema,” Ms Walsh said.
Such workers had not had a pay rise since before 2008, she said.
“We do a very important job and if we don’t get a proper rate of pay people are going to look for work elsewhere. In that situation our service users will suffer and their ability to live independent lives will be threatened. It is [a] concern for those people that [are] at the heart of our campaign.”
The Irish Wheelchair Association said it “fully understands and accepts the frustration of our staff which has led to this industrial action.”
The association has an ongoing annual service arrangement contract with the HSE detailing service quantities and the level of Grant funding. The IWA had not been in a position to fund pay increases as the HSE had not increased the levels of funding for public pay agreements, a spokeswoman said.
“It is unfortunate that the wellbeing of the people who use our services is being put at risk. We will work with SIPTU to minimise this impact. However, Irish Wheelchair Association calls on the HSE to urgently agree to fund an increase in the pay of IWA staff in line with HSE staff.”