Thousands of healthcare workers vote for strike action
Union warns industrial action will ‘lead inevitably to impact on services to public’
Siptu health service support staff such as healthcare assistants, laboratory aides as well as porters and cleaners backed strike action by 94 per cent. Photograph: Alan Betson
Thousands of health services support staff in more than 30 hospitals and other facilities are set to take industrial action in the weeks ahead over pay.
The personnel, including healthcare assistants, laboratory aides, porters and cleaners who are members of the trade union Siptu, voted overwhelmingly for strike action in a ballot which was counted on Friday.
The dispute centres on what the union said was the failure of the Government to deliver on the outcome of an official review of the work of 6,000 healthcare assistants and other support grades under a job-evaluation scheme established as part of the 2015 Lansdowne Road public service agreement .
It said this review, in its initial two phases, had found they had been underpaid for about a decade, and that they should receive a pay rise.
The union said the increases ranged from €1,600 to €3,200 per year.
Staff representatives are due to meet next week to decide on the date and time of any industrial action. However it is likely to be scheduled for some stage in June.
Siptu said its dispute was with the Government and not with the community. However, it said that the ballot result would “lead inevitably to an impact on services to the public” in the coming weeks unless health service management engaged with it.
In a ballot, Siptu health support staff backed industrial action by 92 per cent and strike action by 94 per cent.
Chefs in the health service voted by 97 per cent for industrial action and by 96 per cent to go on strike.
Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell told a special conference of health service support staff on Friday he believed a dispute was about to “take off” given the attitude of the Government. He said if the Government thought it was going to face down health support staff, “they are in for a royal battle”.
Siptu has maintained that the Department of Public Expenditure is blocking the payment of the proposed increase.
The union suggested implementation of the first two phases of the job evaluation scheme would cost about €15 million.
Siptu maintained about 1,000 chefs were seeking, following a separate process, to move on to a higher pay scale that was more appropriate to their duties. The union said they had been waiting for movement on their increase since 2017.
It said dealing with the chef pay issue would cost about €3 million.
Mr Bell said the dispute was not just about money and there were more fundamental issues such as respect, recognition, being valued and being visible.
Speaking at the special conference in Croke Park, he said: “I say you that support staff will no longer accept being the hidden servants of the upstairs/downstairs drama which is our health service, never being referred to by their masters as essential to the delivery of care to our nation’s citizens.”
Siptu deputy general secretary John King said the Government, by not implementing the outcome of the job evaluation process, was adding to “unstable environment” surrounding the current public service agreement.
He said members would only have confidence in the public service agreement in so far that it delivered for them.
Mr King called for a mid-term review to be carried out of the current agreement.
A spokeswoman for Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe said the issues in the dispute would be considered by the group overseeing the implementation of the current public service agreement.
Minister for Health Simon Harris said it was “regrettable that Siptu felt that this course of action was justified”.
He said he hoped that the parties would “be able to successfully engage in that context and that a positive resolution can be found as soon as possible”.