The avoidance of a strike by 5,000 health and social services workers in voluntary organisations and charities, which had been due to start on Tuesday, has been widely welcomed with employers in the sector saying the Government’s commitment to greater funding is important.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, after 14 hours of talks, a breakthrough was achieved in the long-running dispute over a difference in pay that had arisen in recent years between staff working for the voluntary organisations and those doing much the same work for the HSE or other Government agencies.
Under the terms of the agreement, which will be put to members of Fórsa, Siptu and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation over the coming weeks, workers in the sector would receive an 8 per cent pay rise, with 3 per cent backdated to April 1st, 2 per cent from November 1st and 3 per cent from March 1st of next year.
In addition, the two sides have committed to returning to the WRC before December 1st in order to formulate a wider plan with regard to the issue of pay which is intended to provide a pathway to pay parity over the course of the next public sector pay agreement.
The agreement reached records that the Government “recognises the need to provide sustainable funding in this very key sector. The lack of funding has meant that there is a significant recruitment and retention challenge in the sector”.
“The Government does acknowledge,” the text continues, “that the pay of workers in Section 39, Section 56 and Section 10 organisations had fallen behind equivalent and comparable pay grades in the public sector organisations and are committed to fully dealing with this issue before the expiry of any successor agreement to Building Momentum.”
The sections mentioned refer to the parts of legislation under which the organisations are contracted to provide services to health and disabilities (S39), children (S56) and homelessness (S10).
There was some disappointment on the union side that the prospect of the pay parity sought being realised is not more immediate but satisfaction too that a commitment has been secured from Government to address the issue.
Kevin Figgis, health division organiser with Siptu said “the talks have culminated in a package we believe will resolve that issue and sets out a map setting out how that is going to be done”.
He said those at the negotiations has been acutely aware of the difficulties that would have been faced by thousands of vulnerable service users had the industrial action gone ahead as planned.
Clearly, this was a factor for the Government side as well.
John O’Sullivan, chief executive at Enable Ireland, whose 1,400 staff deliver services to some 13,000 adults and children at 40 centres round the country said there was considerable relief at the organisation that the strike had been averted.
“We had done out maths and spoken to the unions and we were prepared for widespread disruption to all but our residential and respite services but they would have been down to the bare bones too,” he said.
The terms of the deal, he said, were for the organisation’s staff to judge but “the formal recognition of the need for greater funding of the sector, that’s very welcome. The current situation is unsustainable.
“As employers, though we would like to be sure that additional costs like PRSI and pensions will be addressed as well because some of those were left out last time around.
“The other issue is that it’s a little bit vague on the pathway here back to parity,” he added. “In five years we fell behind by 10 per cent and we need to be sure that that’s not going to happen again. There needs to be some clarity on what the point of time is that the we will all be aligned.”
The Department for Children, Equality and Disability has been asked for comment.