Voluntary bodies losing up to third of staff to State sector annually, says report

New campaign for staff in grant-aided bodies to recieve same terms as those in State sector

Members of the trade union Fórsa at a previous protest over the issue of pay and conditions at `Section 39’ organisations which provide health and disability services with funding from the State. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Members of the trade union Fórsa at a previous protest over the issue of pay and conditions at `Section 39’ organisations which provide health and disability services with funding from the State. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

 

Staff in voluntary organisations providing health, social care and homeless service financed by exchequer grant aid should have the same terms and conditions as similar directly-employed State sector workers , Fórsa has said.

In a new campaign, the trade union has called for the introduction of a new funding model for voluntary and community sector organisations.

The union on Tuesday published a new report which maintains that the existing disparity in terms and conditions is leading to a “talent flight” of workers from the voluntary grant-aided sector to the HSE or other State-funded bodies.

The new report, by researcher Brian Harvey, says some organisations are losing up to 33 per cent of their staff each year as workers opt to move to the HSE or other State -funded organisations which can offer betters terms and conditions.

The issue arises because health and disability services are currently provided in a number of different ways.

Some services are provided by the HSE itself, others by what are known as Section 38 bodies which receive direct funding from the State and whose staff are considered to be public service personnel.

However, a significant portion of services are delivered by what are referred to technically as Section 39 organisations. These receive grant aid from the exchequer but the workers involved are not deemed to be State employees.

The report says there are 885 Section 39 bodies with combined annual funding of over €600million.

It says there are also a smaller number of voluntary bodies providing homelessness services - about 75 - which receive financial support under Section 10 of the Housing Act.

Fórsa official Catherine Keogh said workers throughout the (voluntary and community ) sector were “feeling frustrated with the current system”.

“Pay scales and conditions vary considerably from one organisation to the next, which means that workers who do the same job are treated differently and paid less depending on where they work.

“The disparity in terms and conditions between these agencies and the alternatives, such as direct employment by the HSE or in the private sector, has led to a situation where the talent flight of staff has become a real problem. Annually, this is about a third of staff from these organisations. Employers are often left in competition with the HSE to hold onto their most experienced and knowledgeable staff.”

‘Race to the bottom’

Apart from the pay disparity, the new report also highlights what it terms “a race to the bottom” in the pay and conditions of their workers on behalf of some voluntary organisations in a bid to win State contracts.

“A significant change in the voluntary-statutory relationship in the past 20 years was the gradual but uneven introduction of what is variously termed, according to their form, public procurement, privatization, marketization and commissioning.

“Hitherto, Section 39 grants were the outcome of a two-sided negotiation between the voluntary organisation and the state (in this case the HSE) and under this model, a voluntary organisation defined and persuaded the State of the need for a particular service and, accordingly, the State funded it, subject to annual review, or even withdrawal of funding if unsatisfactory.”

“ Under this new model, the State defined the need for a service and held a competition for its provision. The bidders might be a voluntary organisation, a combination of voluntary organisations, or even commercial organisations.

“Although,” it is stated, “such procedures tended to be followed for new services (e.g. homeless resettlement), they could also be applied to existing services. One predictable consequence was that applicants or tenderers would drive costs down to a bare minimum - indeed they may be informed that the lowest bidder will be preferred.”

“This might be beneficial from the point of view of keeping the costs of the service down but at a certain point risked impacting on quality of service. New or insurgent voluntary organisations (in the field-specific language, ‘invaders’ or ‘challengers’) were reported to offer ‘improbably low’ quotations for service in order to ‘get their feet under the door’ in this ever-more competitive world.”