Taoiseach says efforts under way to resolve Section 39 pay row

Department criticised for not attending committee hearing on health workers’ pay restoration

Labour TD  Chair Alan Kelly said the department’s refusal to attend the hearing was unacceptable. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

Labour TD Chair Alan Kelly said the department’s refusal to attend the hearing was unacceptable. Photograph: Gareth Chaney Collins

 

New trade union Fórsa has accepted a Government proposal to establish a process to deal with the pay restoration controversy for Section 39 workers.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said there were more than 2,000 such State-funded organisations providing health and social care services, where staff are not directly employed by the State.

He confirmed that Fórsa, the amalgamation of unions Impact, the CPSU and the PSEU had on Tuesday night agreed to the Government’s proposal.

Mr Varadkar acknowledged that workers “are caught in the middle between their employers, the HSE and the Government”.

He said in the Dáil that the Government was establishing a process to find out how many people were affected and much it would cost to resolve the issue. The process would also seek to establish which organisations had received an increased block grant but had not passed on some of that to its workers.

They range from organisation that get as little as €10,000 to those that get millions of euro.

The Taoiseach said that such workers are “not part of the public service and they are not Government employees”. Section 39 workers did not get the pay restoration that directly elected public servants received as part of the unravelling of recession cuts.

He insisted that the Government did not know exactly how many people were involved or how much it would cost to restore pay as some organisations had passed some of their grant on through pay restoration while others had not. “We’re dealing with quite a diverse picture.”

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of hypocrisy, dishonesty and obfuscation. He said that the HSE had been auditing these organisations year in and year out.

He described as an “insult and a joke” a letter the Minister for Health wrote to the HSE to engage with the organisations for a greater understanding of the issue.

Section 39 workers were excluded because “it might upset budgetary figures” and the issue would now only be considered for the 2019 health budget.

He said a number of agencies were now in financial difficulty.

It was “certainly not fair to workers”.

But the Taoiseach told him “I can only give you the facts” and Mr Martin could not create his own facts.

The Taoiseach pointed out that the Labour Court had instructed section 39 organisations to align their pay with those of public service.

Section 39 workers are scheduled to hold a one day strike on February 14th in protest at the failure to restore pay, following a recommendation by the Labour Court.

Mr Varadkar pointed out that the Labour Court recommendation falls on the legal employers, the organisations themselves.

Committee hearing

Earlier, members of the Oireachtas Health Committee strongly criticised the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform for declining to attend a hearing over pay restoration for staff in State-funded organisations providing health and social care services.

Committee chairman Dr Michael Harty said it was extremely disappointing the department failed to turn up to the session on Wednesday, which will also include representatives of the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive.

Dr Harty said the committee would now write to the Department of Public Expenditure seeking it to appear at a future hearing on its own.

Labour TD Alan Kelly said it was a “disgrace” that the department refused to attend the committee hearing and explain its role in the current row over pay restoration for workers in section 39 organisations.

“We need to write to the Department of Public Expenditure to say that its behaviour is unacceptable,” he said.

Sinn Féin TD Louise O’Reilly said the role of the department was clearly material in dealing with the pay restoration issue. She said its decision to withdraw from the committee hearing was not acceptable.

The Department of Public Expenditure said in a statement: “Under legislation the Department of Health are responsible for the funding of section 39 organisations under legislation. The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform will continue to support the work of the Department of Health in this regard.”