Section 39 health staff to strike over pay restoration

Union claims management refused to give €1.5m for process to begin

Staff in State-funded voluntary organisations providing health and social care services are to go on strike on Tuesday, September 18th, after the collapse of talks on their claims for restoration of pay cuts.

The trade union Fórsa, which also represents employees in what are known as Section 39 organisations, said it would ballot its members for industrial action.

The strike planned by Siptu would initially involve a one-day stoppage.However the union signalled on Wednesday that further strikes may be announced in the near future.

Siptu said strike action had already been backed by members in a number of Section 39 organisations including: Rehab Ireland and the Cheshire Foundation -- which are national operations -- as well as at Western Care in Mayo, St Joseph's Foundation in Cork, SOS Kilkenny, Ability West in Galway, Wicklow Community & Family Services, SOS Workshops, Marymount University Hospital and Hospice in Cork.


It said balloting members in other Section 39 organisations was “under active consideration”.

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said his members had deferred a planned strike in February in good faith following an agreement between the parties that pay restoration would begin by the end of 2018.

"This has not happened and our members patience has worn thin," he said on Wednesday after the breakdown of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Mr Bell said the Department of Health and HSE had refused to sanction a "confidence building" payment of the €1.5 million to pay Siptu members 1 per cent of pay restoration in October 2018.

“After months of intense campaigning our members feel that what is being offered is too little, too late and will be striking on Tuesday 18th September. Our members will do everything possible to protect service users throughout the periods of strike.”

Fórsa official Ian McDonnell said he would be seeking approval for industrial action ballots at the next meeting of the union’s health and welfare division executive.

“We have given the department and the HSE every chance to address this issue through the Workplace Relations Commission, but today it emerged that the department has no intention of restoring the pay of dedicated community and voluntary sector workers who suffered deep pay cuts during the recession, while they provided vital services to the most vulnerable members of our society. It now looks likely that industrial action will follow,” he said.

Staff in many Section 39 organisations experienced pay cuts similar to those imposed on public service personnel working in State agencies offering similar services after the economic crash, the union maintained.

However, Siptu argued that unlike public servants working in the health and social care sectors, those in Section 39 organisations had not been offered pay restoration proposals.

The Department of Health and the HSE had consistently contended that staff working in Section 39 organisations were not public servants and were not covered by public service pay deals.

A strike in a number of Section 39 bodies over pay restoration was deferred in February to allow the HSE to carry out an audit regarding remuneration in the various organisations.

The HSE audit of cumulative pay for staff in a group of Section 39 bodies found that pay cuts averaging 4.66 per cent were put in place for employees in 2010.

Mr Bell said the HSE estimated that full pay restoration across all Section 39 organizations would cost €68 million in total.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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