State ‘making a mess’ of Covid bonus scheme, say unions

HSE told that proposal in its present format is now ‘unacceptable and unworkable’

The State has been accused of “making a mess” out of the Covid bonus payment and rendering it “unacceptable and unworkable”, amid a deepening political row over the €1,000 dividend to be paid to frontline healthcare workers.

The group of unions representing healthcare workers hit out at both the Department of Health and the HSE on Tuesday, arguing the current plan for the bonus significantly differs from that laid out in January.

"We have had eight wasted weeks since the Taoiseach and Minister for Health announced a €1,000 bonus for healthcare workers," chair of the joint national council (NJC) of HSE staff unions, Tony Fitzpatrick said.

Hospital Report

Unions have kicked out against a proposal to pay the bonus on a pro-rata basis, meaning some eligible for it would only get as little as €200, depending on how long they worked in certain frontline positions.

The trade unions argue this is a divergence from the scheme as billed, and will exclude or minimise payments to many who left their roles to work in the frontline temporarily, exposing themselves to risk in the first wave especially, when infection prevention protocols were not fully developed and little was known of the virus.

“The NJC have told the HSE that the proposal in its present format is unacceptable and unworkable. The approach taken by the HSE is attempting to introduce restrictions limiting the availability of the full €1,000”

A draft plan circulated to unions this month would see those who worked less than 14 weeks given a payment of just €200.

Trade union sources said the draft document states that those who worked equal or greater to 55 weeks in a Covid-19 exposed environment between March 1st 2020, and June 30th 2021, will receive €1,000.

Those working between 41 and 55 weeks will get €800, and between 28 weeks and less than 41 weeks will get €600. People working less than 28 weeks but more than or equal to 14 weeks will get €400.

Healthcare workers will have to have worked 60 per cent of full time hours in order to be eligible, with those working less than this figure receiving 60 per cent of the cash value of whatever band they fall into.

Mr Fitzpatrick said the unions are “strongly of the view that the HSE are not being loyal to what was announced by Government. Our frontline workers stepped up to the mark during a national health crisis. The HSE and Department of Health seem intent on making a mess out of showing our healthcare workers gratitude.”

The Department has also defined what will is meant by a Covid-19 exposed environment, with the document thought to describe that those covered should be frontline staff who were at increased risk in the course of duties in a clinical setting.

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones

Jack Horgan-Jones is a political reporter with The Irish Times