Medical scientists vote to take industrial action over long-running pay issue

Staff seeking pay parity with colleagues who work in biochemistry laboratories

Medical laboratory scientists have voted overwhelmingly to take industrial action including to go on strike in a long-running dispute over pay.

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) said any industrial action could take place early next year.

The MLSA said 94 per cent of members voted in favour of industrial action up to and including going on strike in a ballot. The turnout was 69 per cent.

Medical scientists carry out diagnostic testing of patient samples in acute hospitals, including urgent testing for Covid-19.

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Medical scientists are seeking the restoration of pay parity with scientific colleagues who work in biochemistry laboratories which they maintain was lost in 2002.

MLSA chairman Kevin O’Boyle said medical scientists were “tired of waiting patiently and want a satisfactory outcome in the short term”.

“The MLSA has taken full industrial action only once in its 60-year history so this is a big step, but we are left with no alternative - our members strongly support action.”

The union's general secretary Terry Casey said it would take part in planned sectoral bargaining talks with the Government under the current public service pay agreement to see if acceptable progress could be achieved on their claim as part of that process.

However, he said the MLSA executive committee would now also move to discuss industrial action, plan a timeline and serve the necessary notice periods.

“Industrial action will be planned unless the issues can be addressed through the upcoming negotiations. The bottom line is that members want their issues resolved urgently and industrial action is now imminent if that doesn’t happen.”

Mr Casey said on Tuesday: “The medical scientists’ dispute dates back to 2002 and involves a claim for restoration of pay parity with scientific colleagues who work in biochemistry laboratories. Parity was awarded in 2001 following an expert group report, but was lost due to an unintentional procedural effect of the 2002 benchmarking process. “

“Medical Scientists carry out identical work, with the same responsibilities, and yet are paid on average eight per cent less, with fewer promotional and career development opportunities and less support for training and education.

“Public sector health workers from nurses, consultants to lab aides have secured significant pay increases in recent years.

"For medical scientists this, combined with the advancing role of laboratory diagnostics, increased responsibility, increased workloads and the long-standing challenges in recruitment and retention mean these employment issues need to be addressed with the HSE, Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. "

Mr Casey said there was an “ongoing significant national shortage of medical scientists across the public health service, in no small part due to inferior pay and conditions, poor career structure and limited promotional opportunities”.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent