Recognising the Psychiatric Nurses Association (PNA) as a representative body for ambulance personnel would undermine agreements in place with the trade union Siptu and would impair good industrial relations, the HSE has said.
Staff in the National Ambulance Service who are members of the PNA are planning to escalate industrial action next week by introducing an overtime ban as part of a dispute over representation rights and the deduction of union subscriptions from pay.
Speaking at a protest outside the HSE headquarters in Dublin on Thursday, the union's general secretary Peter Hughes accused the HSE of "showing contempt for the clear wishes of ambulance personnel to be members of and represented by the PNA".
The PNA maintained that there are about 500 members in its branch in the National Ambulance Service – which is known as Nasra.
In a statement on Thursday the HSE said it was satisfied that ambulance personnel were already adequately represented through agreed industrial relations processes that existed in the health sector. It said Siptu was the recognised union for front-line staff in the National Ambulance Service.
“Recognition of other associations or unions would undermine the positive engagement with Siptu, would impair good industrial relations in the National Ambulance Service and would not serve the best-interests of its staff.”
"This approach is in keeping with Government policy and supports the consolidation that is happening within the wider trade union environment - such as the establishment of (the trade union )Forsa. The principle of engaging only with recognised trade unions has been acknowledged previously by the Labour Court in a dispute involving the PNA and a different public-sector employer."
The HSE said the National Ambulance Service would “stand by the agreements that it has made with Siptu as the recognised union and will not undermine those agreements by engaging with other associations or unions”.
Mr Hughes said for the HSE to refuse to accept that ambulance personnel throughout the country wanted to be members of the PNA showed “total contempt for the wishes of these front line workers, who must have the right to be members of the union of their choice”.
“Ambulance personnel made a decision in 2010 to come within the PNA as a member driven and led official branch of the union. That PNA branch, Nasra, has grown its membership consistently since its formation and has successfully represented scores of members in industrial relations and grievance cases.
“The refusal now of the HSE to engage with our ambulance personnel branch, or to facilitate the payroll deduction of union subscriptions from Nasra members, amounts to nothing short of an effort to dictate which union ambulance personnel should be members of and frustrate the continued development of the Nasra branch. Ambulance personnel have taken a stand to protect their rights. The HSE must resolve this dispute to avoid the escalation of industrial action next week.”
The chairwoman of the Nasra branch of PNA, Sinead McGrath said members were left with no other option but to embark on industrial action to protect their fundamental employee rights to representation.
“As dedicated and committed front line professionals of the health and emergency services, their decision to embark on industrial action, and to escalate it next week, to secure their rights to representation by the union of their choice, was not taken lightly,” said Ms McGrath.
"With the HSE continuing to refuse to engage with PNA/Nasra to resolve this serious dispute, I am calling on the Minister for Health, Simon Harris, to demand that the HSE step back from triggering this escalation in the industrial action and move as a matter of urgency to address the issues at the core of the dispute."