‘Good chance’ McGrath will support early renegotiation of public pay

Minister of State addresses Siptu health conference on his support for public sector health workers

 Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath TD told the Siptu conference that he sees himself ‘as a voice of workers’ within the health services. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath TD told the Siptu conference that he sees himself ‘as a voice of workers’ within the health services. File photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

The Minister of State at the Department of Health Finian McGrath has signalled that he will support the early re-negotiation of the existing public service pay agreement.

Members of the trade union Siptu, at a conference of its health division in Cork on Thursday, called for talks on a successor to the existing public service accord, which was agreed last year and which came into effect last January , to be brought forward to the middle of 2019 due to the rising cost of living.

The existing agreement is scheduled to run until the end of 2020.

Speaking at the Siptu health division conference , Mr McGrath said while he had not seen the text of the conference’s motion, there was “a very good chance” that he would support this call in Government.

He said the Minister for Public Expenditure Paschal Donohoe and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar were aware of his views “when it comes to supporting public sector workers and also to ensure fairness and quality in their wages”.

Mr McGrath said he made no apologies for his back ground in the trade union movement.

Asked whether this would leave him on a collision course with other senior ministers who have argued that there was no more money available for public service pay, Mr McGrath said “they have been saying that since I went into Government two years ago”.

The Minister said he would listen to the views of the Siptu members and bring those to Government.

‘Voice of workers’

“I see myself as a voice of workers within the services. I know in order to run quality disability services you have to listen to the people on the ground. It is a very difficult position which many of them work in and my job is to report that view. It is an independent view but it is a strong view.”

Conference delegate Broc Delaney said in light of rising cost of rents, mortgages and the everyday cost of living, unions and the Government should bring forward talks on a successor accord to mid-2019.

Siptu deputy general secretary John King said if the current trajectory of the economy continued, the circumstances surrounding any talks on a new agreement would not be like those that took place in recent years which were all about retrenchment.

Separately, Mr McGrath also told the Siptu conference that while the Government was committed to expending the workforce in the health service, this would have to be matched by with new levels of flexibility and openness to new ways of working.

“It will require all health professionals to work to the full scope of their practice. It will require greater levels of engagement across disciplines, across professions and across sectors. It will require up-skilling and re-skilling. It will require more flexible working.”

‘Amazing work’

The Minister said that not everything in the health service was a crisis.

He said every day up and down this country, staff in the health service did amazing work. People were living longer than ever before, he said, and each year more and more services and care were being provided to those that need it.

“Despite this, we know we are a long way from where we should be and where we want to be. No one can deny that our citizens have to wait too long to access care, or in some cases can’t access it all. No-one knows this more so than you - as you are faced day in and day out with these challenges.”

Mr McGrath said that to achieve the objectives set out in the Sláíntecare reform programme, a number of things would need to change, including a holistic strategy for workforce planning and development.

“We will not achieve any of our ambitions without the buy-in and commitment of our health workforce. However, we cannot expect this buy-in and commitment in the absence of providing some commitments of our own.”

“We will continue to concentrate efforts on enhancing the recruitment and retention of health professionals and ensure an enduring focus on continued education and training. We know we will need to grow our workforce in the years to come, but it must be done in a managed and evidenced-based way.”