Issue of pay-rise timing at heart of hospital support staff strike

Job evaluation scheme shows workers entitled to pay increases, says Siptu

HSE support workers, members of the SIPTU Trade union from 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities are striking over what they claim is the government’s failure to ‘meaningfully engage’ with pay restoration talks. Video: Bryan O'Brien / David Raleigh

 

The dispute that will bring widespread disruption to hospital services on Wednesday essentially boils down to when thousands of support staff will receive pay rises.

Siptu argues that groups such as healthcare assistants, laboratory aides, technicians, porters, and others are due pay increases following the findings of a job evaluation scheme which concluded last autumn. These would amount to €1,500 for many staff and up to €3,000 in some cases.

About 1,000 hospital chefs are also involved in the dispute arising from a separate, but broadly similar, review of their pay.

The HSE has not given any indication of an exact number of patients who will be impacted by the 24-hour dispute, but the likelihood is that several thousand people will have appointments cancelled or procedures such as endoscopes deferred. Should a further planned three-day stoppage scheduled for next week go ahead, the implications would be much more serious.

Job evaluation schemes assess whether particular roles have evolved over time or have taken on more responsibilities – therefore warranting higher payments. Crucially, the job evaluation for the health support staff covered not just individuals but rather whole grades.

It is estimated that paying the increases being sought, including for chefs, would cost about €19 million a year.

Such job evaluation processes in the health service were abolished after the financial crash in 2008. However, in a side deal to the overall Lansdowne Road public service accord in 2015, the then government agreed to reintroduce these assessments.

Siptu said last October that the initial two phases of the scheme had concluded that healthcare assistants and some other grades were entitled to an upgrade on the basis that their roles and responsibilities had changed. The union maintains that under the rules of the scheme, once such a recommendation is issued, the increases should have been put in place within weeks.

One of the main reasons the union is pursuing these increases vigorously is that it insists that it has followed all the processes laid down in its agreement with the Government.

The impact of the decision to provide nurses with pay rises to end their strike earlier this year should not be under-estimated when assessing this dispute.

The Department of Public Expenditure initially insisted that the increases on foot of the job evaluation scheme could only come into effect in 2021 after the current public service pay accord expired.

However, in talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) over the past week – which saw the deferral of two previously planned strikes on the issue – the Government’s position shifted.

Phased payment

Sources said a phased payment of the increases with about €890 being paid from November this year was proposed with other payments following next year and in 2021.

Siptu contends that while increases for the support staff are worth close to €17 million in total, the Government proposed paying only €1.2 million this year and a further €5 million next year.

The union maintains the Government also sought to change a circular governing how staff move from one pay band to another. It argues this could lead to further payment delays for staff.

Government sources maintain that meeting Siptu’s demand would represent a 7 per cent pay rise for the staff concerned next year in addition to increases under the general pay round and the extra remuneration provided by Government to recent entrants to the public service.

Ahead of the potentially more disruptive strike action next week, the Government is pressing Siptu to go to the Labour Court but there has been no indication the union will. The union appears reluctant to accept the Government’s proposal for a binding recommendation on the dispute.

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