Cork care centre workers caught in 'employment limbo' for two years

Cork care centre workers caught in 'employment limbo' for two years
SIPTU industrial organiser, Sharon Cregan

SIPTU has called on Revenue to intervene and help care centre workers in Cork caught in “employment limbo” for almost two years.

The trade union said 36 of its members at the St Vincent’s Centre in Cork city, a residential care centre for women with a mild to medium intellectual disability and who require supports, are being denied access to basic social welfare entitlements because Revenue won't recognise their employer.

Despite the uncertainty, the centre's care assistants, social care workers and administration and clerical workers, are still turning up for work every day to care for the centre residents.

SIPTU industrial organiser, Sharon Cregan, said the staff deserve huge credit for ensuring continuity of service:

The staff have worked with and lived with these ladies for years. They know them and they want to continue to provide care for them, to ensure that they can live as independently as possible.

St Vincent's, a Section 39 organisation, was governed by the Sisters of Charity until the HSE stepped in in March 2017. Within months, HIQA published a report on foot of a visit to the centre on June 28, 2017, which identified major non-compliance issues in key areas.

An interim arrangement was put in place which provided for the HSE to pay staff through the St Vincent’s Interim Group, a company which was set up with a registered employment number.

Last Autumn, a proposal emerged for the governance of the centre to be transferred to the COPE Foundation. Transfer of Undertaking (TUPE) legislation would ensure staff terms and conditions would be protected.

However, an issue with their P35s not being forwarded to Revenue means the interim company is not recognised by Revenue as an employer. The issue is further complicated by an ongoing High Court case involving the HSE and the religious order.

Both have combined to prevent COPE from being engaged as the actual “employer”. The workers have fallen between the two stools.

Ms Cregan said it is unacceptable that loyal workers providing such a vital community service should be in employment limbo for so long: “This injustice has been rumbling on since 2017. Our members are being denied access to basic social welfare entitlements, such as dental and optical benefits."

In September 2018, it was announced the COPE Foundation were proposed to take over the centre and that TUPE legislation would apply. Since then, no substantial progress has been made.

"Our members’ are now demanding that the Revenue Commissioners step in. We have the intolerable situation where staff pension contributions are being deducted from the staff’s salaries continuously since March 2017 and in the possession of the HSE but at the same time being advised by the pension scheme administrator that their scheme is ‘closed off’."

The union was advised that the Sisters of Charity and HSE are to enter a mediation process but it is understood that there is a now a case before the High Court in respect of defining the 'actual employer'.

Ms Cregan said something must be done in the meantime until COPE is named the legal employer.

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