Covid-19 testing could be affected by lab workers’ pay dispute

Union says mood for industrial action is growing among medical scientists

Covid testing. Photograph: Alan Betson

Covid testing. Photograph: Alan Betson

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Medical scientists, including those involved in testing for Covid-19, have warned that there is an increasing mood for industrial action over pay issues.

The chairman of the Medical Laboratory Scientists Association Kevin O’Boyle said there was “palpable anger and unrest in laboratories all across the country and the likelihood of industrial action is growing”.

The union, which represents over more than 1,800 medical scientists in public and private hospitals as well as the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, urged the Government to make progress in dealing with a long-standing pay dispute ahead of its annual general meeting next weekend.

The association said its members carried out “critical diagnostic testing of patient samples in public hospitals – including urgent testing for Covid-19”.

Terry Casey, the union’s general secretary, said: “At this stage we are not confident that some form of industrial action can be averted. This long-running pay dispute requires immediate resolution to avoid widespread disruption to laboratory diagnostic services as we enter the winter flu season, with the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to give grave cause for concern.”

“The [union] is calling on the HSE, Department of Health and Department of Expenditure and Public Reform to engage in urgent and meaningful talks on pay and conditions, in the context of next weekend’s annual general meeting,” he said.

Unfilled posts

The union said medical scientists were involved in a long-running dispute that dated from 2002 regarding a claim for pay parity with scientific colleagues who work in biochemistry laboratories.

“Medical scientists carry out identical work, with the same responsibilities, and yet are paid on average 8 per cent less,” Mr Casey said. “This is grossly unfair. It is an obvious inequity which requires urgent resolution.”

The union said there was a significant national shortage of qualified medical scientists and that up to 130 posts were unfilled.

“The [union] believes that the key reason for these vacant posts is inferior pay and conditions for medical scientists in public health services, including poor career structure and limited promotional opportunities.”

“Instead graduates are opting for more lucrative positions in the private sector. It is estimated that of the 90-120 medical scientists who graduate annually, up to 50 choose not to enter the public health service.”

The union said: “Medical laboratories in the Irish health service are now at tipping point resulting from the critical shortage of qualified medical scientists. The Covid-19 pandemic, and the requirement to provide urgent additional testing capacity in all hospital laboratories, have turned an already difficult situation into an emergency.”

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