HSE says zero-hour contracts issued to new Covid-19 contact tracers in error
People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett says incorrect contracts are ‘shocking’
The incorrect contracts show that the newly-hired workers were not guaranteed hours, would not be entitled to sick pay and would not be protected under the Unfair Dismissal Acts. Photograph: Alan Betson
The HSE has said that zero-hour contracts sent to contact tracers being hired to locate newly infected coronavirus cases were issued in error by recruitment company CPL.
The company is sending out an amendment letter clarifying that the newly recruited contact tracers are in fact being offered contracts for working 37 hours a week for 11 months.
The clarification letters are being sent out after People Before Profit TD Richard Boyd Barrett described the zero-hour contracts in Dáil as a “shocking and outrageous development” and said that it “speaks volumes about the Government’s failed Covid strategy”.
The HSE is hiring 500 staff for its longer-term contact tracing operation as it moves from a system of relying on almost 300 volunteers and redeployed workers in eight contact tracing centres along with personnel from the Revenue Commissioners and the Defence Forces.
The incorrect contracts show that the newly-hired workers were not guaranteed hours, would not be entitled to sick pay and would not be protected under the Unfair Dismissal Acts.
The terms of the CPL contract say that the work is for the purposes of helping the HSE during the emergency period of the coronavirus pandemic and “the employment under the terms of this contract will terminate at the end of the emergency period of the Covid-19”.
The HSE said in a statement that CPL informed it that there was an “unintentional error in the contracts sent to the new contact tracers which referred to no obligation or guarantee on hours”.
Amendment letters being sent to all appointees would reassure them that their contracts are full-time, 37-hour-a-week contracts or part-time as some candidates requested, the HSE said.
The HSE said that CPL-employed contact tracers are being given the same leave as HSE staff and that for work-acquired coronavirus sickness, they will be entitled to the “relevant social welfare payment” and paid their contracted salary less this payment, as it does HSE employees.
“The employment arrangement of agency-employed contact tracers will be reviewed at a later date by contacting tracing,” the HSE said.
Mr Boyd Barrett questioned whether the contract was in fact issued in error.
“If this is a mistake, it is a mistake on a major proportion because that contract has gone out to hundreds of people. It is just not credible that this was some sort of oversight,” he said.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said that the HSE had to guarantee decent contracts in order to recruit professional people to carry out sensitive and difficult work during the pandemic.
“Surely any strategy for dealing with Covid until there is a vaccine, which may never come, has to involve a reasonably long-term commitment to having a contact tracing regime up and running and public health teams well resourced?” he said.
More than 630 candidates have passed the interview process or awaiting interviews for the new jobs. About 150 new contact tracers have already started or are starting this week. The HSE expects to bring in 60-70 new staff into its contract tracing centre each week during recruitment.