Going back on commitment to pay health support staff would be ‘act of betrayal’

Labour leader Brendan Howlin warned the Dáil with HSE workers set to strike

Leo Varadkar told Mr Howlin that ‘the commitment was to consider the outcome but not to automatically implement it’. Photograph: Tom Honan

Leo Varadkar told Mr Howlin that ‘the commitment was to consider the outcome but not to automatically implement it’. Photograph: Tom Honan

 

It would be “an act of betrayal” for the State to go back on a commitment to pay health support staff following agreed job evaluations, Labour leader Brendan Howlin has warned.

He was speaking in the Dáil as 10,000 HSE health support workers prepare to strike on Thursday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said the strike can be avoided by referring the dispute to the Labour Court.

But he told Mr Howlin that it was his understanding that “the commitment was to consider the outcome but not to automatically implement it”.

Mr Varadkar said the dispute centred on the timeline for the payments which would be worth €16 million a year to hospital porters, nursing aides, cleaners, laboratory aides, instrument and catering staff.

A job evaluation scheme was agreed as part of the Lansdowne Road Agreement.

The issue was raised in the Dáil by Mr Howlin and Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin following the ending of talks on Monday night at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) without resolution.

Mr Martin said there had been foot-dragging by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform on the job evaluations which had been agreed.

He said the payment ranged from €1,600 to €3,200 to workers who had adhered to the 2016 pay agreement.

Pay agreement

The unions had honoured the pay agreement and been constructive and responsive, he added.

Mr Martin said hospitals are considering abandoning elective admissions and emergency-only admissions and morale within health services is already poor.

He said “these workers feel they have been dismissed by Government” and that they have been abandoned.

“It seems no satisfactory explanation has been given for foot-dragging,” he said.

Mr Varadkar said he wanted the dispute to go to the Labour Court for resolution but he hit out at the Fianna Fáil leader who he said was constantly criticising the Government over containing spending but at the same time demanding pay increases for a different group every week.

Mr Howlin said the HSE support staff were relatively low-paid workers “who have accepted a series of pay agreements on the understanding that the State would honour them”.

He said the nonpayment of this evaluation is a breach of what was agreed.

The Labour leader called on the Taoiseach to intervene to ensure trust is restored between the State and these workers.

“It would be an act of betrayal for the State to go back on its commitment now,” he said.