A Government minister was accused of performing a total “volte face” and being “disingenuous” on the issue of pay for staff in voluntary hospitals.
Super junior health minister Finian McGrath was at the receiving end of stinging criticism in the Dáil during a debate on pay rates in so-called section 39 hospitals.
The private member’s motion was brought forward by Fianna Fáil’s public expenditure spokesman Dara Calleary, who said the pay disparity was grossly unfair.
Labour’s Alan Kelly said that three years ago when in opposition, Mr McGrath would have been singing a different tune to workers in those voluntary hospitals.
While Mr McGrath expressed his sympathy with the workers who are threatening to strike next month, they are not public servants and therefore not subject to the pay restoration process outlined in the latest Lansdowne Road agreement.
In the Dáil, Mr McGrath said: “Staff in these organisations were not subject to the Fempi legislation which imposed pay reductions. Section 39 organisations are not obliged to pass on any pay reductions to their staff members. Nor are they obliged to provide for any pay restoration that may be negotiated as part of the public service agreements.”
Mr McGrath said the staff of such voluntary organisations could exceed 100,000. Some 300,000 people are working directly for the State. This means that as many as one third more could be working for these organisations.
“Expanding public service numbers by as much as a third is not something that the State could afford or want to do,” he said.
Such comments drew widespread criticism from opposition TDs who said that staff in such voluntary hospitals were hit with pay cuts in line with their public sector colleagues and should see their pay restored in a similar fashion.
Mr Calleary accused Mr McGrath of being a “Tesla” minister in charge of a driverless department.
“You think you are not the ministers in charge of your department. He again repeated the line that section 39s were not obliged to pass on pay cuts to staff, totally ignoring the direction that came from the HSE in 2013,” he said.
“Do something about this one, I behold you to do something about this. If the workers feel they have no choice but to go the pickets on February 14, on your watch be it, on your watch be it,” he stated.
“If you respect these people, pay them properly. They get up early in the morning minister, which your leader is fond of talking about. They need more than your platitudes, minister.”
Mr McGrath told the Dáil the Government was not opposing the Fianna Fáil motion but opposing an amendment tabled by Solidarity-People Before Profit.
He said the health minister has instructed the HSE to enter into a process of engagement with section 39 agencies in the health sector to establish the factual position regarding pay reductions and restoration. It is anticipated the process will bring about necessary clarity and transparency and, ultimately, an agreed way forward for all parties involved, he said.
Rehab Group’s Kathleen O’Meara said section 39 workers needed to know how long this process would take in light of threatened upcoming industrial action which could dramatically affect vital services.
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