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Gordon Ryan, longtime board member and treasurer of ILMI.
pay talks

Pay talks: Additional money for HSE funded agencies 'must go on worker's pay, not admin costs'

Trade unions are set to push the State to reclassify agency healthcare workers as public servants.

 AN ADVOCACY GROUP for disabled people has said that any additional funding secured for HSE funded agencies such as the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) must go towards boosting worker’s salaries, rather than “more money being spent on administration”. 

Speaking ahead of pay talks between trade unions representing agency workers and State bodies including the HSE and Tusla, the Independent Living Movement Ireland (ILMI) has said that additional funds need to be ring-fenced for the purpose of increasing the pay of healthcare assistants and other workers. 

Gordon Ryan, longtime board member and treasurer of ILMI, said that the low rate of pay for healthcare assistants is having a direct impact on disabled people who depend on their services, as some people have been left unable to get out of bed because assistant’s didn’t show up, and many are struggling to get the care they need. 

The current rate-of-pay for personal assistants with the IWA is €14.23 – €15.82 per hour, depending on experience, with a premium rate for unsociable hours. 

IWA, like other agencies that offer services to disabled people, is a section 39 agency under the health act, meaning it is partially funded by the state, and its employees are not recognised as public servants, and therefore are not entitled to the same pay rises, or terms of employment. 

 Ryan from IMLI said that this key difference is leading to a high turnover of staff in the community and voluntary sector, meaning that disabled people are having to get used to a different assistant coming in and out of their homes every few months, and in some cases every few weeks. 

Ryan, who has cerebral palsy, says that the poor working conditions for agency staff are making it difficult to get more than ten or fifteen hours of care a week. 

“It’s extremely difficult for people to get the care hours they need. Many members will come to us and say that their assistant didn’t show up, so they weren’t able to get out of bed that day, and in some cases aren’t able to feed themselves,”  he explained. 

gordon Gordon Ryan, treasurer of ILMI, with Michael McCabe and former Minister of State for Disability Issues Finian McGrath.

Ryan said that some agencies are providing a better standard of care than others. 

“The IWA is the best of the bunch. With certain agencies people have no control over what time an assistant comes to their home, so they aren’t able to be in charge of their own routine.” 

“I worry about the workers being exploited. Most of the assistants are migrants, it is very hard to get Irish people to work in this sector. It’s also difficult for workers coming from overseas to get work permits, and agencies aren’t paying the fee of €1000 up front anymore,” Ryan said. 

He added that it is essential that any additional funding that comes out of Monday’s talks between trade unions and State bodies goes directly to workers, rather than being spent on agency costs. 

Section 39 ‘creates an industry around disabled people’

Colm Whooley, the founder of the charity and support service Spinal Injuries Ireland, said that section 39 has essentially created an “industry around disabled people”. 

“There is a running cost with all of these agencies, so a chunk of the funding provided by the HSE will not be reaching the individuals it is supposed to help. 

“The reason why some people opt to go with agencies other than IWA, which would be recognised as the best available option, is because the IWA doesn’t cover the area they are living in,” Whooley said. 

He explained that disabled people are “reluctant to speak out” when the care they are receiving isn’t adequate, or meeting their needs.

“It’s not like temporarily having to use a health service, having a bad experience, and then speaking out about it, because you know what you will have to continue to rely on them, in many cases it is all people have,” he said. 

Unions to push for redesignation

A spokesperson for Fórsa, a union representing workers from a range of agencies that provide services for disabled people at tomorrow’s Workplace Relations Committee meeting, said it will be pushing for the State to redesignate these section 39 agencies as section 38 organisations, so that employees will be classified as public servants. 

They further stated that many of the issues faced by section 39 workers would be solved if “the public service links that were broken in this sector by the State were re-established”. 

The spokesperson said:”There is a pay difference between workers employed by the state and those working for these agencies, many of which are providing services to disabled people, which have essentially been outsourced by the government at a lower cost. 

“We can’t pre-empt the outcome of the talks, but moving these agencies into section 38 is certainly something we will be pushing for. It would go some way to improving conditions, and solving the recruitment and retention crisis in this sector. 

They added that there has been some progress in this area in the last year. 

“Health Minister Stephen Donnelly acknowledged in the Dáil the Government’s role as the sole funder of these agencies, and therefore the impact of its funding levels on their ability to pay workers properly. That was the first time in many years that that was acknowledged. 

“The Government did move some hospices from section 39 to 38 in the last few months, and that has helped to resolve staffing issues. I would argue that that change needs to be made across the board,” he said. 

Fórsa will be attending the WRC alongside the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the SIPTU trade union. 

SIPTU’s divisional organiser Karen O’Loughlin said that the pay disparities that agency staff are experiencing continue to have a “detrimental effect on staff recruitment and retention, and ultimately on the capacity of these organisation’s to deliver services”. 

Ashley Connolly, the Fórsa national secretary has said that it is clear that workers in this sector are providing essential services, but are working on “lesser terms and conditions than their HSE counterparts”. 

She added that the unions representing them will not accept anything less than “meaningful engagement” from government departments. 

INMO’s director of industrial relations, Albert Murphy, has welcomed the news that the Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, and the Department of Health, confirmed they would attend WRC, along with the HSE, to engage in pay talks. 

“It provided some badly needed progress. Unions have a shared and very clear idea of the scale of the problem. We remain determined to engage on the basis of making sure these agencies are sustainably funded and that the drift on pay and conditions is finally reversed after almost 15 years,” Murphy said. 

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