About 5,000 workers at 18 voluntary organisations and charities providing health and social services on behalf of the HSE, Tusla and other Government agencies are to take indefinite strike action from October 17th as part of a long-running dispute over pay.
Unions representing staff say they want the same pay and conditions as those in similar roles who are directly employed by Government agencies and enjoy significantly better circumstances.
Representatives of Siptu, Fórsa and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation said on Monday there was overwhelming support for the industrial action, which follows a breakdown in talks with the Government at the end of July.
Thousands of service users, many of them with disabilities or in need of extensive care supports, will be affected if the strike action goes ahead. If a settlement is not reached, the unions say staff at other organisations will be balloted as part of a gradual escalation.
Speaking at the press conference where the proposed strike action was announced, Irish Congress of Trade Unions general secretary, Owen Reidy, said after all the talk about essential workers that had been “bandied around” during and since the pandemic, people who were “the definition of essential workers” were being treated with “disrespect”.
The staff involved, he said, had “a very, very clear and unambiguous pay linkage to the peer group in the public service” until the economic crash.
“When the economic crash came, they were public service enough to have their pay cut with their civil and public servant colleagues, for the FEMPI legislation to be applied to them. But since the end of that period, since the start of pay restoration, they have struggled and battled to get pay justice and, now, we estimate that they are in excess of 10 per cent off where they should be.
“What we’re talking about here are people who have the same profile, same qualifications, same experience and, in some instances, share the same location as public servant colleagues.”
Mr Reidy said there was a window for meaningful talks to take place before the action starts but that it wasn’t one of those disputes that can be settled “with an offer of three fifths of what we are asking for”.
He said a clear commitment to the restoration of pay equality with public service employees was required, along with a time frame for it being achieved, and the establishment of a system to ensure such a gap does not open up again in the future.
In a statement, the Department of Health said: “The Government recognises the important role that Section 39 and Section 56 organisations and their staff play in our health and social care sectors. They continue to have a key role in providing services to people with disabilities, vulnerable children and older people.
“Government have a clear interest to ensure the stability and sustainability of services for the benefit of those who rely on these essential services and the workers who are committed to providing quality services.”
The department said that after the Government’s offer of a 5 per cent increase at the Workplace Relations Commission was rejected by unions, further talks were offered.
It expressed regret that the 5 per cent offer was not put to staff to be voted on and said the staff were not ultimately employees of the State and so, it does not exercise control over their terms and conditions.
“As Government reflects on the implications of today’s union announcement,” it concluded, “relevant agencies have been asked to engage in contingency planning with the relevant employer organisations so that any impact on those who depend on these essential services can be managed to the greatest extent possible.”
Voluntary organisations and charities due to take indefinite strike action from Tuesday, October 17th:
- Ardeen Cheshire Ireland
- Ability West
- Cheshire Ireland
- Cheshire Dublin
- Cheshire Home Newcastle West
- Co-action West Cork
- Cobh Hospital
- Daughters Of Charity Child and Family Service
- DePaul Ireland
- Don Bosco Care
- Enable Ireland (nationwide, including Cork, Tralee, East Coast and Midwest regions)
- Family Resource Centres
- Irish Wheelchair Association
- Kerry Parents and Friends
- St. Catherine’s Association Ltd
- St. Josephs Foundation
- St. Luke’s Nursing Home
- Western Care Association
‘You’re being forced to move. It’s not a choice’
It’s not quite two years since Ellie Horgan took up a full-time staff role as a paediatric occupation therapist with Enable Ireland in Bray and, though she loves both the work and the people, she says she is leaving next month to start a new role at Avista, formerly the Daughters of Charity Disability Support Services on the Navan Road, Dublin.
“I’m moving to another team because my rent is increasing and the cost of living is increasing,” she said on Monday.
“I’m moving away from a Section 39 [organisation where pay is not at public sector levels] to a Section 38 [an organisation where it is].
“You know how they work, you know your cases, the service users you’re working with. You adore your colleagues but you’re being forced to move. It’s not a choice.”
Horgan’s new role will be more senior and when she told her current employers of the move, they asked if she would stay in the event they could match the regrading.
“But even if I got a senior role in Enable Ireland, I would be earning €8,000 less than I would be in a senior role in a Section 38 or HSE team. When you multiply that by 4.5 times to get a mortgage, it adds up.”
Enable Ireland issued a statement on Monday saying it had long “advocated for pay parity for our staff and we fully support staff demands to permanently align pay scales on an equitable basis with their peers in the HSE and Section 38 voluntary organisations”.
For now, the impact of the disparity is felt on a daily basis by both staff and service users, according to Horgan. Three staff might leave the Enable teams in Bray and Greystones each month, she estimates, with just one joining. Fewer cases are dealt with as a result, the ones that do are the most urgent and often the most emotionally demanding which, in turn, contributes to the attraction of departing for an employer that not only offers better pay but also a more manageable workload.
“I have no experience of what the situation was before 2008 but I know I am in the thick of it now. I was trained by this country, I want to stay in this country but every week, I’m getting emails offering me the chance to go to New Zealand or Australia. ‘We’ll pay for your visa, your flights, give you €10,000 to move over here.’
“In my graduating class in the middle of the pandemic in 2020, we had 30 graduates and more than 50 per cent have left the country, even though they are screaming out for therapists here. That tells you how hard it is to get a permanent role here and how untenable the conditions are when you do get one.”