Belfast Telegraph

Government accused of abusing trust as hospital staff poised to go on strike

Industrial action planned by Siptu workers, including catering staff, porters, cleaners and technicians, will affect patient and client services.

Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty has called on the Government to work to halt the strike by Siptu workers (Niall Carson/PA)
Sinn Fein TD Pearse Doherty has called on the Government to work to halt the strike by Siptu workers (Niall Carson/PA)

The Government has been accused of abusing the negotiations process as 10,000 hospital workers plan to go on strike.

Industrial action planned by Siptu workers, including catering staff, porters, cleaners and technicians, will affect patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities.

The Government came under sustained criticism during Tuesday’s Leaders’ Questions where opposition parties called on the Taoiseach to act “in the next hour” to halt the strike.

The dispute has emerged between workers and the HSE over what Siptu claims is a failure to implement increases in pay for workers after a job evaluation scheme deemed the staff were underpaid.

The initial response from the Government was that the increase would be paid in 2021 when all the stages of the evaluation are complete.

The Taoiseach says that in order to come to a deal the Government had agreed to phase-in these pay increases from November 2019, “out of good will”, in an effort to resolve the dispute, which was not accepted by the union.

The first strike, which was due to take place last week, was called off to allow for further talks, however discussions at the Workplace Relations Commission failed, and the union has since refused the Government’s offer of taking the matter to the Labour Court.

Sinn Fein’s Pearse Doherty noted that those striking are generally low-paid workers, and are not asking for huge increases, but for what was recommended by the evaluation.

“They perform invaluable work and deserve to be treated and paid accordingly,” Mr Doherty said.

“These people are not making blind pay claims, it’s about honouring agreements that your Government signed off on, it is there in black and white, and the Government has failed to provide and honour the agreements it entered into.

“And despite your usual efforts to paint workers and indeed their unions as unreasonable and all the rest, they’re not seeking enrichment, far from it, for example a healthcare assistant enjoys an entry level pay of less than 28,000 euro, even with the increase under the job evaluation scheme, they’ll still be earning less than 30,000.

“So nobody is getting rich here.

“It’s not as a matter of urgency, but an option of last resort, we understand HSE has asked for this money to be provided and you’re refusing to honour that agreement.

“You need to honour your word and the commitment that was made to these workers four years ago.”

Likewise, Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin noted that “the reason Siptu are reluctant to go to the Labour Court, is that they believe the Government has been dragging its feet and is not serious about the implementation of the job evaluation scheme recommendations.”

The Taoiseach noted that the HSE received 17 billion euro this year and it is “not reasonable, in my mind, for an agency to receive a big budget increase to come back looking for additional increases in spending during the year”.

“I have to take into account the very strong advice of the fiscal advisory council during the year,” he said.

The Labour Party and People Before Profit have also launched attacks on the Government, with Labour’s Alan Kelly accusing Fine Gael of stoking the strike rather than seeking resolution.

The HSE say they are continuing to engage on 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,” a spokeswoman said.

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