Social Democrats TD Catherine Murphy Leah Farrell/
Section 39

Allowing health and community workers' strike to go ahead would be 'unthinkable'

5,000 health and community workers are set to strike “indefinitely” on 17 October.

MEMBERS OF THE OPPOSITION have called on the Government to immediately return to negotiations with Section 39 workers’ unions ahead of their proposed strike.

Social Democrats’ TD Catherine Murphy said today that the idea this strike could happen is “unthinkable” given that these people are caring for some of the most vulnerable members of society.

Yesterday, up to 5,000 health and community workers, employed in community and voluntary sector agencies funded by the HSE and other state agencies, voted to strike “indefinitely” on 17 October.

Workers in this sector are looking for an “unambiguous and clear commitment” that equal pay be restored to put them on parity with Section 38 workers (HSE workers).

Some 19 organisations will strike on 17 October, including Cobh Hospital, DePaul Ireland, Enable Ireland, St Lukes Nursing Home, and the Irish Wheelchair Association. 

Speaking on the issue today, the Labour Party and the Social Democrats both called on the Government to take action now to prevent the strike. 

“The idea that we could let this go to the week of the strike and then have an intervention, which is the kind of thing that we sometimes see, will not be acceptable,” Catherine Murphy said today. 

Murphy said the objective of Government should be to provide equality between Section 39 and Section 38 workers.

“A lot of the services provided by Section 39 really should be public services. They shouldn’t be provided by section 39 anyway,” Murphy added.

Likewise, Labour Senator Marie Sherlock described it as “an appalling situation” and added that the workers are “effectively being forced to go out and strike again”.

“We saw a series of work stoppages last year and we saw a lot of promises from Government that they would remedy the very serious crisis that we’re seeing in the care sector.

“There’s a crisis of recruitment, there’s a crisis of retention, and there’s a crisis of respect and this isn’t something that has just blown up overnight. This has been going on for many, many years,” Sherlock said.

“There has been a haemorrhaging of people out of the Section 39 organisations because of the pay crisis and to be frank, we have a Government who is not taking this situation seriously.

“It is high time now that the Government actually comes to the table with a comprehensive package for these workers,” she added.

“Section 39″ agencies, who are funded under Section 39 of the Health Act, 2004, provide a range of residential and day services for people with disabilities, mental health, addiction, domestic and sexual violence services, and other supports, under service level agreements with the HSE.

Until 2008, workers in these agencies received pay increases under national wage agreements. At the onset of the financial crisis, they were subject to pay cuts in line with the same cuts applied to public sector pay.

Limited pay restoration measures were eventually won by unions in 2019 but pay in these agencies remains significantly behind, and no formal mechanism for collective pay bargaining exists for workers in the sector.

With reporting from Muiris O’Cearbhaill.

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