Medical laboratory scientists may strike over pay

Union concerns centre on parity with colleagues in addition to recruitment and retention

Medical laboratory scientists are to consider proposals this weekend that could could potentially lead to a strike over pay.

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) said on Wednesday that its members are dissatisfied at lack of progress on claims for parity with other scientific colleagues.

The annual general meeting of the union on Saturday will debate a motion that states: “’Due to the fact that our grievances cannot be resolved within the new national public service pay agreement, the MLSA will immediately ballot for industrial action, up to and including strike action to further these motions.”

Members of the MLSA voted overwhelmingly earlier this year to reject the new public service pay agreement. But the union agreed subsequently to be bound by the aggregate majority decision of other public service organisations affiliated to the Irish Congress of Trade Unions (Ictu) to support the accord.

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It is understood that the union is seeking to pursue its claim as part of a sectoral bargaining process established under the new public service agreement. However, it is uncertain whether there would be sufficient funding available under this mechanism to address the issue fully in the immediate term.

The medical scientists, who carry out diagnostic testing of patient samples in acute hospitals, including urgent testing for Covid-19, have been involved in a long-running dispute dating back to 2002 regarding a claim for pay parity with scientific colleagues who work in biochemistry laboratories.

The union maintained that medical scientists carried out identical work, with the same responsibilities, but were paid on average 8 per cent less and had fewer promotional and career development opportunities and less support for training and education

The union's chairman, Kevin O'Boyle, said on Wednesday: "The MLSA has been engaged in talks with the HSE and Department of Health since summer 2020. Despite this, no clarity has emerged on how and when its members' serious grievance, and the critical recruitment and retention issues created by it, will be addressed. If the motion passes at Saturday's agm the executive will meet urgently to initiate a ballot."

Open to talks

MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said the union remained open to engagement on how solutions could be found.

“The strong message from medical scientists is that the current Building Momentum [public service] deal does not address long-standing recruitment and retention issues in the laboratory sector and these must be addressed urgently.

"Public sector health workers from nurses, consultants to lab aides have secured significant pay increases in recent years. For medical scientists this, combined with the advancing role of laboratory diagnostics, increased responsibility, increased workloads and the long-standing challenges in recruitment and retention mean these employment issues need to be addressed with the HSE, Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

“There is a significant national shortage of medical scientists across the public health service, with up to 130 posts unfilled even before the additional pressures of the pandemic arose in 2020. The reasons for this are inferior pay and conditions, poor career structure and limited promotional opportunities.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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