Health service workers seek revised staffing rules for severe weather

Siptu to seek ‘red alert weather protocol’ for health service staff

Health service workers are to seek a new “fair pay structure” and revised rules to govern staffing levels which would apply during periods of severe weather.

The trade union Siptu said on Monday it wanted to see the immediate development of a "red alert weather protocol" for health service staff.

It said this should be “underpinned by specific staffing arrangements and a fair pay structure”.

Siptu said there had been mixed messages from the Health Service Executive and the Minister for Health last week over whether staff who could not get to work at the end of last week when a red weather alert had been declared would be paid or have to take the time out of their annual leave.


It said unions would also be seeking talks regarding a commitment given by the Minister on “acknowledging” staff who braved the elements and made it into work last Thursday and Friday.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said on Monday that it was only through the collective effort of union members that health and emergency services remained operational throughout Storm Emma.

‘Beyond call of duty’

“The actions of these workers should be recognised for minimising the risk to the public during the red status weather alert. It is clear that ambulance professionals, healthcare assistants, catering staff, porters, nurses, midwives, those working in diagnostics, to name only a few categories of workers involved, went above and beyond the call of duty. Many slept in hospitals, others in hotels, some walked for miles just to make their shift.

"However, lessons must be learned concerning the mixed messages from the Health Service Executive and the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, about the treatment of staff who could or could not get to work."

Mr Bell also said home helps had experienced difficulties in getting access to people in their homes.

He said there was also had a “potentially dangerous incident in Naas where an ambulance station was not able to operate for 12 hours because of the failure to put in place provisions to clear its entrance of snow and ice”.

“It was only through the Herculean efforts of workers and one brave community volunteer with a JCB that the station was able to get up and running again.”

Mr Bell said there was need for an extreme weather protocol “which must take into account the proper recognition and remuneration for staff exposed to danger while working or travelling to work in hazardous conditions.

"The Minister confirmed in a tweet that health workers who were unable to attend work when a red status weather warning was in place would be paid for the hours they were scheduled to work and would not be required to take leave to cover any absence as a direct result of Storm Emma. Crucially, the Minister confirmed that the HSE would find a way to 'acknowledge' the efforts of staff who braved the elements to come to work during the big freeze on Thursday and Friday.

“We look forward to opening a conversation on these issues when the group of health unions meets on Wednesday. It is also our intention to seek support from our colleagues in the trade union movement for the immediate development of an extreme weather protocol that will give certainty to the public and provide security for workers.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent