Services delivered by community,voluntary sector at risk of collapse, Fórsa warns

Union says some agencies losing one third of staff each year

Specialist health services delivered by the community and voluntary sector in areas including disability, addiction and care for older people, are at risk of collapse due to the failure to create a more sustainable funding model for the organisations involved, the trade union Fórsa has warned.

The union's assistant general secretary Catherine Keogh said the early warning signs of danger were "all around us".

She said some agencies were losing one third of their staff each year.

She said the current funding model robbed agencies which receive State grant aid – known as Section 39 organisations – of stability and any ability to plan future service delivery.

Ms Keogh told the Fórsa health and welfare division conference on Wednesday that it believed that a new systemic funding model was necessary for the community and voluntary sector, “because the sector will collapse without one”.

She said terms and conditions for staff in Section 39 organisations – who are not considered by Government to be public service personnel – lagged behind those enjoyed by their colleagues employed directly in the HSE or State- funded voluntary healthcare agencies.

Ms Keogh said the Section 39 sector was now “characterised by a high turnover of staff, with many migrating to public service terms of employment with the HSE”.

“The sector is being drained of talent and experience. The extremely high turnover of staff, as people exit to find permanent employment in the HSE, or in more securely funded agencies, is a waste of resources, both human and financial.

“Exit rates of up to a third of staff each year have been recorded, forcing these agencies to spend valuable tax payers’ money on recruiting to fill vacancies.

“Ultimately, it is service users who suffer due to the high staff turnover, while experienced staff, understandably, seek greater job security in their chosen profession. The only way to stop such a corrosive cycle is to implement a new funding model for Section 39 agencies,” she said.

Delegates attending the online conference rejected proposals tabled by its Cork Health and Local Government branch to “take immediate action to secure increased pay and conditions for frontline care workers of all grades within the HSE and Section 38 and 39 employments” to reflect sacrifices that they had made both in the past and during the pandemic.

The union’s leadership argued that the motion would generate divisions between categories of members in that it would force it to determine where exactly the frontline was situated and where it was not.

Fórsa represents health staff in both traditional front-line roles as well as managerial, administrative and support grades.

The conference backed calls for the union to press for pay restoration for personnel working in agencies funded by the child and family agency, Tusla, who had experienced cuts during the last economic crash.

Separately the conference was also told by the head of the Fórsa health division Éamonn Donnelly that about 1,600 staff had been upgraded under a job-evaluation scheme.

Under job-evaluation processes, the roles of particular grades of staff are reviewed to determine if they have evolved over time and if they should be upgraded as a result and receive higher pay.

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

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