More public holidays are a "no brainer", but the healthcare workforce needs additional recognition for its work during the Covid-19 pandemic, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has said.
The Government has given “contradictory messages” regarding compensating frontline workers which is “confusing the issue and raising expectations”, the INMO added.
It is understood Government plans to bring in an extra bank holiday to recognise the work of frontline workers and remember those who died during the Covid-19 pandemic are at an advanced stage.
An official announcement regarding the additional bank holiday is expected next month, while a date for the holiday has not yet been decided on. Other measures for frontline workers are also being considered, including extra leave or payments.
The INMO said Ireland ranks exceptionally poorly when it comes to bank holidays, with far fewer than other EU countries.
“More public holidays are a no brainer. But it is clear that the healthcare workforce need additional recognition. They have borne great risks and been to the fore of the fight against Covid. They worked extra unpaid hours, rapidly adapted to new circumstances, and many became ill as a result,” an INMO spokesman said.
"Government have given out contradictory messages on this, which is confusing the issue and raising expectations. The Labour Court recently recommended that all sides sit down and discuss the healthcare worker compensation issue. Unions are available for talks any time, but are awaiting an invite from Government."
Frank Thornton, president of the Garda Representative Association (GRA), said the association had not been party to any negotiations regarding "exceptional bank holiday allowances for frontline workers", but would welcome any such discussion.
“The association is currently involved in advanced high-level negotiations with management in relation to rosters and this remains our primary focus at this time,” Mr Thornton said.
“The association and our members believe any goodwill or gratitude for the sacrifice and flexibility shown at a time of national crisis should be reflected at these roster negotiations.”
Siptu said there are “too many contradictory messages” coming from the Government about how recognition might be given to health staff and other workers for their contribution during the pandemic.
“This mixed messaging is confusing the issue, while further raising expectations. Instead, if the Government has a proposal, or proposals, to make, it should talk to workers representatives directly and without delay – as recommended by the Labour Court,” a spokesman for Siptu said.
Dermot O’Leary, general secretary of the National Bus and Rail Union (NBRU), said an additional bank holiday “wouldn’t be of big benefit to transport workers as they wouldn’t necessarily have the day off to spend with their families”.
“It may take a suite of measures to address all the different asks and the different sectors. In relation to public transport, a bank holiday in its own right wouldn’t be sufficient recognition as far as we’re concerned because of the fact that public transport operates on bank holidays,” he said.
Neil McDonnell, chief executive of the Irish SME association, which represents small and medium-sized businesses, said it would be “far more preferable” if the Government decided an extra public holiday is justified on an ongoing basis rather than “what strikes people as gesture politics”.