Health workers' strike to go ahead on Wednesday

Health workers' strike to go ahead on Wednesday

A 24-hour strike by some 10,000 HSE support staff at 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities is set to go ahead on Wednesday after talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) collapsed today.

The strike action could cause significant disruption to planned patient procedures all over the country.

Siptu is also set to ballot staff at some 20 additional healthcare facilities nationwide in a move that could escalate the strike action in the coming weeks.

Among the staff set to strike will be health care assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory aides, chefs, and surgical instrument technicians, as well as porters and cleaners.

A 24-hour stoppage was due to take place last Thursday but was averted at the last minute to allow for talks. A second strike, initially planned for tomorrow, was also postponed to facilitate the discussions at the WRC.

Despite the cancellation of last week's strike action, there was still some disruption to procedures at hospitals and healthcare facilities.

Siptu health division organiser, Paul Bell, said that the union had hoped to conclude the talks and avoid strike action. He said that the Government has "never meaningfully engaged" with Siptu over the issues.

The dispute stems from what Siptu describes as the Government's failure to deliver on the outcome of an official review of the work of healthcare assistants under a job-evaluation scheme established as part of the 2015 Landsdowne Road public service pay agreement.

The review, according to Siptu, found that some staff were underpaid for a decade and that they should receive pay rises of approximately €2,000 per year.

Mr Bell said, "Some €16.2 million is owed to our members yet the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform has only offered €1.2 million to resolve this dispute."

Contingency planning is already underway to minimise disruption to patients, according to the HSE.

The strike will result in the deferral of some elective inpatient procedures, reduced outpatient services and reduced laboratory services for GPs. It will also result in the significant cancellation of scope procedures, as well as reduced catering services for patients and staff, and reduced operating theatre activity.

A HSE spokesperson said: "Patients are being contacted by their local hospital or healthcare facility in the event that their scheduled procedure or service will be affected by the dispute. While every effort will be made to minimise impact on patients, industrial action involving these essential staff will have a significant impact on services."

The Department of Public Expenditure said that the Government has "constructively and positively engaged" to find a resolution to the dispute.

It said that "a significant offer" was made last Friday which would move people to "the appropriate salary scale from November of this year." This is in addition to the existing benefits of the Public Service Stability Agreement, it added.

"Disappointingly the Union side have now concluded that this is insufficient to resolve the dispute and have stated their intention to proceed with planned action from Wednesday of this week," a spokesperson for the Department said.

"In line with agreed IR procedures, the Employer has offered to refer this dispute to the Labour Court for a binding outcome and regrettably this too has been refused.

"The consequences of this action will be extremely disruptive and distressing for the many patients who rely on the Health Service."

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