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Doctors' union accuses HSE of trying to collapse talks

The Irish Medical Organisation says talks last night on new work practices in the Health Sector were less constructive than hoped.

The HSE has suggested that the working week for health staff should be extended by two hours, to cut down on overtime payments.
The HSE has suggested that the working week for health staff should be extended by two hours, to cut down on overtime payments.
Image: 401(K) 2012 via Flickr

THE IRISH MEDICAL ORGANISATION has accused the Health Service Executive of deliberately trying to collapse negotiations between the two sides on new work practices in the health sector.

The sides met for a third round of talks in Dublin yesterday evening, ending with the decision to refer all matters being discussed to the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), which the IMO said was a “major disappointment”.

Its director of industrial relations, Steve Tweed, said he believed the HSE’s representatives had gone into yesterday evening’s discussions with a “clear agenda… to break down the talks last night”.

Tweed said the HSE’s national director of human resources, Barry O’Brien, had said any outstanding disputes between the two sides would be referred to the LRC before the talks had even begun – something he took to indicate an intention on the HSE’s part not to seek agreement between the sides.

“After three meetings on what is a comprehensive and complex agenda, that is not showing any regard to the negotiating process,” Tweed told TheJournal.ie.

“There didn’t seem to be any desire last night to allow the dialogue to continue on the delivery of the clinical programmes,” he said, saying the HSE had instead seemed “focussed on curtailing the talks and bringing them down”.

He added that the IMO was concerned that two matters which the HSE had proposed for the agenda in its talks with the unions were beyond the remit of the Croke Park deal on public sector employment, and should therefore not be subject to referral to the LRC.

Extend working week by two hours

It was reported in yesterday’s Irish Times that the HSE had proposed extending the average working week by two hours, in an effort to reduce overtime payments and curtail overspending within the health sector.

Tweed said the IMO had not formally received any such proposal, and said he believed the matter had merely been suggested by the HSE for discussion at a further meeting with staff representatives next month, rather than constituting a full proposal from the executive.

He added that there was a “disconnect” in the HSE’s HR policies, where the executive was simultaneously trying to encourage consultants to work more evening and weekend hours, while asking support staff to concentrate on regular office hours.

While Tweed said consultants were prepared to be flexible with their working hours, they needed hospitals to provide support staff for them when needed – and that they would be unable to work if no support staff were present.

He also said proposals to extend the working week by two hours would run contrary to its long-running pledges to ensure that the hours worked by junior, non-consultant doctors were in compliance with the EU’s working time directive, which they currently are not.

In a statement issued ahead of last night’s talks, Barry O’Brien said the HSE remained committed to the Croke Park Agreement and had tabled some options “as a mechanism to generate constructive debate between trade unions and management”.

Other options tabled by the HSE include paying overtime at the flat hourly rate, asking staff on flexitime to work their full contract hours, and to scrap the time-and-one-sixth hourly rate paid to staff for work between 6pm and 8pm.

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Gavan Reilly

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