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Dublin: 4 °C Wednesday 11 December, 2019
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Explainer: Why are 10,000 HSE staff striking tomorrow?

And what impact will it have?

File photo
File photo
Image: Shutterstock/Syda Productions

TEN THOUSAND HSE support staff are set to go on strike tomorrow after talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ended without agreement earlier this week. 

At the start of the month, Siptu served notice of a 24-hour strike by 10,000 healthcare workers to be held tomorrow at 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country.  

The industrial action will involve Siptu members working in portering, household and catering services as well as those employed as healthcare assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides, chefs and surgical instrument technicians.

Why exactly are the workers striking? 

Siptu has said the strike comes as workers are in dispute with the HSE over its failure to implement increases in pay for Siptu members arising from a job evaluation scheme. 

Paddy Cole from Siptu explained that Siptu members voted in “overwhelming numbers” to support the Lansdowne Road Agreement in 2015, which included the reintroduction of the job evaluation scheme. 

“The scheme had been suspended during the height of the economic crash in 2008 and its reintroduction gave Siptu members hope that by staying the course, playing by the rules and working with their union there would be brighter days ahead,” Cole said.

“Meanwhile, four long years have passed and Siptu members are still waiting for this recognition.”

“This is despite ballots for strike action in 2016 and 2018, both resulting in Workplace Relations Commission interventions. Health and other public service members also voted for the Public Service Stability Agreement (PSSA) in 2017.”

Siptu’s Paul Bell told RTÉ Radio One’s Today with Sean O’Rourke that the Department of Health and the HSE accepted the outcome of the job evaluation process. 

However, Siptu Deputy General Secretary for the Public Service John King said the Department of Public Expenditure has not yet provided funds to the scheme. 

He said that the introduction of the job evaluation scheme could result in pay rises for some staff.

The dispute over pay increases has now escalated to planned strike action tomorrow.

Initial talks aimed at resolving tomorrow’s strike action adjourned last Thursday. Talks resumed at the WRC on Monday, however, they ended without agreement. 

What does the government and HSE have to say about the strike? 

Minister for Finance Paschal Donohoe has said that efforts should continue today to avoid the strike tomorrow. 

Speaking on RTÉ Radio One’s Morning Ireland, Donohoe said that he will do what he can to deal with the “disruption” that may happen tomorrow.

Donohoe noted that there are a wide variety of competing claims being “pressed by the broad union movement” in relation to the future of public pay in the country. 

For example, this strike is coming after members of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation held numerous days of strike action earlier this year over pay disputes. 

When asked if workers will be penalised for breaking the public service stability agreement he said that experience had taught him that in the day before a strike “if I begin to talk about the additional penalties that will be coming in it can have an effect on what we need to do to avoid the strike happening in the first place”.

We will do what we can across today to deal with this issue but we have to ensure that anything that can be done recognises that we have an agreement in place that I am determined to protect.

Reacting to Donohoe’s comments, Siptu’s Paul Bell told Sean O’Rourke that “if any penalties are taken against our members who are working within the public service agreement we reserve the right to escalate this dispute”.

“There are many hospitals we have not balloted on the base of trying to resolve the dispute with the minimum impact and that’s what we’d like to do,” he said. 

What contingency plans are in place for tomorrow?

As noted above, 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities around the country will be impacted by the strike.

The HSE has warned that the strike will have a “significant impact on services” and that it will involve a “significant number of staff who make an essential contribution to the effective running of our health service every day”. 

The HSE is this afternoon continuing to engage in contingency planning with Siptu at local hospital and healthcare facility level. 

“This is to ensure minimum disruption to patient services, in so far as possible, and to ensure patient dignity and that essential daily care remains in place,” the HSE said. 

According to the HSE, initial feedback from hospitals this morning shows that the services most impacted will include: 

  • Deferral of some elective inpatient procedures
  • Significant cancellation of scope procedures
  • Reduced outpatient services 
  • Reduced laboratory services for GPs
  • Reduced catering services for both patients and staff
  • Reduced operating theatre activity

The services impacted will vary across the hospital sites.

Patients are being contacted by their local hospital or healthcare facility in the event that their scheduled procedure or service will be affected by the strike. 

“While every effort will be made to minimise impact on patients, industrial action involving these essential staff will have a significant impact on services,” the HSE said. 

What happens now? 

Well, the parties involved in the dispute could return to the WRC for further discussions or turn to the Labour Court in an attempt to resolve the matter. 

Speaking before the Dáil yesterday, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said that the “strike can be averted but the best way for that to happen is to use the industrial relations machinery that exists”. 

“It is the same institution that averts or ends most, if not all, strikes, namely, the Labour Court,” Varadkar said.

“The government and the employer in this case – the HSE – are willing for the matter to be brought before the Labour Court to allow the court to hear all sides of the argument and make a recommendation. If that is done, the strike on Thursday can be avoided.”

However, speaking this morning, Siptu’s Paul Bell said: “As far as we’re concerned in Siptu, this remains an issue for the Workplace Relations Commission because we did enter into [an] exploratory talks process.” 

So, as things currently stand, it looks like the strike will go ahead tomorrow. 

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