HSE says there’s ‘intention to recognise’ role of health staff during pandemic

Unions refer claim for compensation, including 10 days additional leave, to WRC

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO General Secretary. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

Phil Ní Sheaghdha, INMO General Secretary. File photograph: Dara Mac Donaill / The Irish Times

 

The Health Service Executive has said it has emphasised to trade unions that there is an intention to “recognise” the role of healthcare staff during the pandemic. It said work was “under way to progress that”.

Health service trade unions have referred their claims to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) for compensation, including 10 additional days annual leave, in recognition of their contribution for dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Unions held talks on the claims, which were lodged last November, with representatives of the HSE and the Department of Health on Friday.

Two separate but essentially linked claims for compensation have been lodged by staff representatives with the HSE, on foot of work carried out during the pandemic.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) has specifically sought 10 days additional leave for its members.

The broader group of trade unions representing virtually all grades of staff across the health system has lodged a separate claim for “special recognition” of healthcare workers with regard to their response to the virus.

It is understood there was no immediate resolution to the issue in the talks between the HSE, Department of Health and unions on Friday.

However, unions said health service management urged them not to go down the industrial relations route with the claim.

Unions said health service management figures said they would revert to them again at a further broader meeting with health service representative organisations next Tuesday.

Conciliation

The chairman of the group of unions in the health sector – or staff panel, as it is known – Tony Fitzpatrick said the claim had now been referred to the WRC for conciliation.

Mr Fitzpatrick said health service management said it recognised and respected the exceptional performance of staff over the last year.

He said management said it was aware that senior Government figures had made statements supportive of recognising the performance of key personnel during the pandemic.

He said management had maintained it was continuing its research into precise mechanisms on how this could be brought about.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the unions had pointed out that the claim had been submitted four months ago.

He said the unions had maintained that staff in other jurisdictions had received official recognition for their work during the pandemic.

The INMO said ahead of an Oireachtas committee hearing in February that healthcare workers in Northern Ireland and Scotland were set to receive a once-off £500 bonus for their work so far in dealing with the pandemic, while those in France were to be awarded a €1,500 payment.

The staff panel in its claim in November maintained that considering the unique circumstances of this pandemic and its impact upon public health, “the manner of healthcare workers’ response to assist in meeting that public need should be recognised by the HSE”.

“Healthcare workers have had to upskill, redeploy and work in very difficult conditions throughout 2020, and this must be acknowledged and recognised in a tangible way by their employer. Also, over 11,500 healthcare workers [at the time of the submission in late November] have been infected with Covid-19 and they work in an extraordinarily hazardous workplace. Despite this, our members have worked with the HSE to maintain and enhance services despite these clear risks. We believe it is time to compensate those workers involved in the provision of healthcare.”

The HSE said on Friday that along with the Department of Health, met with staff representatives in relation to their claim and would be engaging further on the issues raised and the position put forward.

“Management emphasised that there is an intention to recognise the role of healthcare workers during the pandemic and work is under way to progress that. There will be further discussion with the unions in this regard in due course.”