Trade Unions lodge complaint over ‘excessive’ working week

Paul Bell, SIPTU

Trade unions representing residential staff looking after children, the elderly and others have lodged an official complaint with the European Commission over excessive working hours.

It has been claimed that some staff offering residential care are working 63-hour weeks, way above the legal maximum of 48 hours.

Impact and Siptu have lodged the complaint and said health employers and management in some cases were continually breaching the 1993 EU Working Time Directive and were also failing to respect a decade-old European Court of Justice ruling on working time.

The official complaint lodged with the EC is primarily over union claims about the substantial hours workers spend on-call while they are in situ at residential facilities overnight.

Impact and Siptu claim health employers are not treating these hours as working time, meaning staff working overnight receive a “sleep-over” allowance of just €5.40 an hour, below the statutory minimum of €8.65.

The unions want staff to work only one sleep-over a week and only then as part of the contractually obliged 39-hour working week. The unions also claim any sleep-over duties beyond this should be treated as overtime, with workers paid accordingly.

Impact national secretary Louise O’Donnell said: “It is neither fair on the staff nor sustainable for the service. It’s not unusual for staff to work a full shift, then work an interrupted overnight ‘sleepover’ before immediately coming on shift again in the morning.

“This is not safe for staff or the vulnerable clients they serve.”

Siptu health division organiser Paul Bell said: “Managers are ordering staff to work as many as seven sleep-overs a fortnight, in flagrant breach of Irish and EU working time laws and for less than the minimum wage. It’s an insult to the staff and the people they serve.”

As part of the complaint, the unions have cited the 2002 European Court of Justice ‘SIMAP’ judgment, which ruled all time spent on-call must be regarded as working time if a worker is required to be at their place of employment.

They also claim there is a breach of the Irish Organisation of Working Time Act, which put the EU legislation into Irish law.

The Labour Court this month directed both sides in the row to return to LRC-facilitated talks no later than May 31.

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