Work continues on childcare scheme despite setback for deal

Department acknowledges ‘limitations’ of schemes as unions say it ‘falls far short’

Employees reassigned to alternative duties will continue to be paid their normal basic salary and fixed allowances. Photograph: Frank Miller

Employees reassigned to alternative duties will continue to be paid their normal basic salary and fixed allowances. Photograph: Frank Miller

 

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) has said it is working on further childcare supports for healthcare workers during the Covid-19 crisis after hopes of a deal with unions were dealt a blow on Wedensday.

A spokeswoman for the Department said that the limitations of the current approach for childcare for the sector “are acknowledged and the Government continues to prepare further supports to provide childcare in essential health workers homes”.

A previous proposal along these lines was dismissed by the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) due to public health concerns. The body’s approval would be needed before any scheme is put in place.

It comes after a deal appeared to be in the offing on Tuesday between the HSE and unions. It had been suggested that staff would be paid for child care time, but a circular from the HSE on Wednesday stressed that there is “no special paid leave available for Covid-19 caring arrangements during this time”.

Rather, flexibility would be sought from managers to allow staff work from home, up to and including new roles or reassigned duties that could be performed remotely. However, Fórsa, the largest public sector union, said what is on the table “falls far short” of what is needed.

“While health unions have pressed the Government to deliver on its commitment to provide childcare supports, Fórsa did not seek the proposal floated by the HSE yesterday,” the union said in a statement. Unions are seeking a solution “where the HSE provides direct childcare support to essential workers and/or meets the costs of the childcare arrangements that individual staff members put in place for their children”.

The HSE memo circulated to hospital chief executives and other senior officials said “if employees cannot work outside the home and cannot perform their current role remotely, the employee is still to be considered as actively on duty and available to work”.

Employees reassigned to alternative duties will continue to be paid their normal basic salary and fixed allowances “pending such assignment”, the memo states.

According to Fórsa, such arrangements are not a new or workable deal and essentially follow guidance from the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on childcare supports for essential workers. Already, some 4,500 staff are absent from work on sick leave or in self isolation, with others absent due to childcare difficulties. Plans announced by the Government to provide paid leave for partners of healthcare workers disappointed many last week.