Staff at more than a dozen community health and care service providers are set to announce strike action in an escalation of a long-running dispute with the potential to impact on thousands of users across the country.
Enable Ireland, Cheshire Ireland and the Daughters of Charity, Child and Family Service are among the organisations running services in areas like supported accommodation, homecare for the elderly and services for people with disabilities where staff were balloted in recent weeks.
Representatives of the staff involved say there is a substantial difference in pay between workers employed by charities providing services for the State and those directly employed by agencies like the Health Service Executive.
The two sides engaged in talks organised by the Workplace Relations Commission in late July but the process collapsed when unions described as “derisory” an offer of a 5 per cent pay increase.
The three unions involved, Siptu, Fórsa and the Irish Nurses’ and Midwives’ Organisation, will announce the result of the vote for industrial action on Monday morning with a large majority in favour expected.
Three weeks’ notice of industrial action would be required and so it is anticipated that services at the organisations, which also include Cobh Community Hospital, Western Care Association and Don Bosco Care, could be impacted from the middle of next month.
Charity umbrella group The Wheel put the average pay difference between the State-employed and charity staff at about 12 per cent but says it is considerably higher in some cases.
Pay had been generally linked until the financial crisis in 2008 but the workers employed by not-for-profits have not benefited from the pay restoration agreements that have resulted in lost ground being recovered by public sector employees. The result, both unions and the charities say, is high levels of turnover with, in many cases, skilled staff switching employer so as to do much the same work for better pay and conditions.
“In some cases, the difference in pay, between people doing precisely the same work, is 20 per cent and organisations are seeing turnover of 12, 30 even 50 per cent. No organisation could deal with that,” said Ivan Cooper, chief executive of The Wheel last week.
With Government funding wages but the organisations actually paying them, the dispute is somewhat unique in that various employers have expressed support for the staff’s claim but say addressing it is out of their hands.