Taoiseach appeals to Siptu to call off HSE strike, return to Labour Court

Opposition says union does not trust Government on job evaluation process

Mr Varadkar insisted that Wednesday’s 24-hour stoppage by 10,000 health support workers ‘is not inevitable’. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

Mr Varadkar insisted that Wednesday’s 24-hour stoppage by 10,000 health support workers ‘is not inevitable’. Photograph: Julien Warnand/EPA

 

The Government’s position on payments to 10,000 healthcare support workers remains unchanged, and a 24-hour strike looks set to go ahead on Wednesday.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar insisted that the offer made to the unions “is appropriate” in the row over the payments following a job evaluation process on the work of porters, catering staff, cleaners, surgical instrument cleaners and other employees.

He appealed to workers to call off their strike and take their case back to the Labour Court.

Mr Varadkar insisted that Wednesday’s 24-hour stoppage by 10,000 health support workers “is not inevitable” and he called on Siptu to take up the option of binding arbitration before the Labour Court.

“The strike is not inevitable – the Labour Court is the next stop,” he said.

The process involves payments of between €1,500 and €3,000 at a cost of €16.2 million annually to the exchequer.

The strike action follows the breakdown of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission.

Mr Varadkar said that the HSE had a budget of €17 billion, €1 billion more than last year and they could not operate on the basis of extra budgetary demands, especially when the Irish Fiscal Advisory Council was warning about budgetary overspend.

Workplace evaluation

He told Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin that the workplace evaluation was not complete and insisted that the initial position was that payment would arise when the workplace evaluation process was completed and it was not yet finished.

He said that in a bid to help the process and avoid a strike the Government offered to begin implementation from November this year but the union rejected the offer.

Mr Varadkar added that “if it is a matter of trust the Labour Court is independent and can hear all sides and make an adjudication. He said “it is unusual for the union side to refuse to go to the Labour Court”.

Mr Martin said the reason Siptu was reluctant to go to the Labour Court “is their sense that the Government is dragging its heels and isn’t serious about the job evaluation process that has been dragging on since 2015”.

He said they were down to the implementation phases and clearly “ the union doesn’t trust the Government on the issue”.

Mr Martin said “every effort needs to be made to avoid strike and we’re facing huge disruption”.

Workers had been promised this payment for the last five or six years.

‘Last resort’

Sinn Féin deputy leader Pearse Doherty said the workers would strike unless the Government lived up to the promises and agreements it made. “And that’s the long and short of it”.

He said the dispute is “ about honouring agreements that the Government entered into”.

Mr Doherty said that the payments were owed was not in doubt because the HSE agreed to the payments.

The Donegal TD said “these workers are not seeking enrichment”.

A healthcare assistant starting out earns less than €28,000 and even with the job evaluation they would still be getting less than €30,000, he said.

The strike is the option of last resort, he added.

But Mr Varadkar insisted that “the offer that has been made is appropriate”. They would phase in increases from November “notwithstanding the strain the Government is under”.

The Taoiseach said the workers involved would get three pay rises this year: the second part of a 2.75 per cent increase in September, an increment payment to most of the 10,000 workers; and the first part of an increase related to the dispute which would be paid in November.

Mr Varadkar said the dispute turned on the timing of pay rises already agreed. The money would be paid between now and 2021.