Thousands of health and community staff to step up campaign over pay restoration

Securing pay and pension justice in sector is ‘very much unfinished business’ says Siptu

Thousands of staff in State-funded organisations providing health and social services are seeking pay restoration. File photograph: Cate McCurry/PA Wire

Thousands of staff in State-funded organisations providing health and social services are seeking pay restoration. File photograph: Cate McCurry/PA Wire

 

Thousands of staff in State-funded organisations providing health and social services as well as community employment scheme supervisors are to step up campaigns over pay restoration and pensions, the trade union Siptu has said.

Both groups staged industrial action in February just before the country was hit by the coronavirus pandemic.

Meetings are expected to be held this week to map out an updated campaign.

Siptu said “strong and concentrated action” was needed from the Government to deal with long standing issues facing workers in the community and voluntary sector.

Siptu deputy general secretary for the public service John King said securing pay and pension justice for workers in community services remained “very much unfinished business”.

Staff in organisations which receive grant aid to provide services from the Health Service Executive (HSE) - known technically as Section 39 bodies - are seeking the restoration of pay which was cut following the economic crash nearly a decade ago.

Unions contend that while Section 39 organisations were urged to cut staff pay in line with reductions in remuneration to public servants during the austerity years, the personnel involved have not seen pay restoration, unlike direct State employees.

Community employment supervisors want the Government to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation to give them access to an occupational pension scheme.

Mr King said: “Over the next number of weeks, we intend to intensify our campaign for pay and pensions justice. . We have seen throughout the Covid-19 crisis community employment supervisors putting their shoulders to the wheel and keeping essential community services going across the country. Section 39 workers have also stepped up and continued to provide frontline social and health services to the most vulnerable people in our society. It is time these essential workers are valued, respected for the contribution they make and that it is recognised by the Government that these workers have a right to pay restoration and pension provision in line with the improvements secured in recent years by public service workers and across the private sector.”

‘Forgotten sector’

Siptu community sector organiser Eddie Mullins said the community sector had long been the “forgotten sector” which had experienced disproportionate cuts during the years of austerity.

“Before the Covid-19 outbreak, hundreds of community employment supervisors and Section 39 workers came together for a national day of protest to highlight the failure of the last Government to deal with our members outstanding pay and pension claims. This issue is not going away,” he said.

In April 2018, the then minister of state at the department of public expenditure Michael D’Arcy said community employment supervisors were employees of private companies and not of the State. He said it could cost the State up to €188 million a year to pay for pensions for staff in exchequer funded community and voluntary organisations, as well as a further €318 million for ex gratia lump sums.

In a note to the Oireachtas Covid-19 committee earlier this month the Department of Health said in October 2018, a deal was reached at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) on pay restoration for staff in 50 Section 39 organisations on a pilot basis. It said this process commenced in April 2019 with further payments due in October 2020 and October 2021 as appropriate.

However it indicated that there had been no developments in relation to staff in about 250 other Section 39 organisations .

“There had been initial engagements in recent months between the parties on this matter under the auspices of the WRC. HSE management has indicated its willingness to undertake the preparatory work around implementation of pay restoration for this next group. The HSE has also confirmed the following:

  • A dedicated resource was assigned to this work from January 2020.
  • The HSE are considering which bodies might form a ‘phase 2’ of pay restoration.
  • It is intended to use the learning from the first 50 pilot organisations to streamline this process.

“However, despite the engagement that took place, it was not possible to reach an agreement. Management remain available and committed to the process. It is hoped that when the demands of the pandemic allow, engagement at the WRC can be reconvened.”