In the first exchanges in the work-to-rule war taken by more than 90,000 union members, Government groups warned severe problems will be caused to vulnerable citizens by the union action.
In particular, Minister for Trade and Commerce Billy Kelleher claimed more jobs will be lost as investors will ignore a country with industrial action issues, while the HSE said unlike previous disputes, unions had failed to guarantee intensive care units will not be hit.
However, branding the comments as “emotional blackmail”, IMPACT, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Civil and Public Services Union (CPSU), insisted the public will ultimately benefit by the action.
“They’re taking part in emotional blackmail. Our members are very muchpatient-centred and we are explicitly aware of the needs involved, but this work-to-rule is necessary because of what’s happening nationwide,” said an IMPACT spokesperson.
“We are focused on looking after the public’s needs, but what we are saying is we will no longer be covering up for management’s mistakes.
“They cut pay despite having a very cohesive alternative on the table and this is the consequence,” he added.
Throughout the country yesterday teachers, nurses, secretaries and civil servants stuck rigidly to their contracted hours in protest at the 5%-15% pay cut imposed by the Government in the December budget.
Unions have claimed a fairer restructuring plan put forward by their representatives, which could have saved up to €900m, was rejected by Government to force through pay cut agenda in the public service.
Industrial relations trouble-shooters from the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) are on stand-by to intervene to resolve the row.
However, in a further sign of the industrial unrest, an additional 60,000 public sector workers are set to join the national work-to-rule industrial action by next Monday when SIPTU joins the protest.
Meanwhile, SIPTU has heavily criticised major health insurer VHI for the company’s refusal to provide details of its dwindling funding levels for private hospitals.
The union and the INMO were protesting against the VHI yesterday in a bid to reverse pay cuts in the private hospital sector, which Mount Carmel, the Mater Private and the Bon Secours have insisted were caused by a drop in health insurance finances.
Members of both unions picketed the VHI headquarters in Dublin seeking information on the financial support given to the facilities.
However, after the health insurer rejected the request by insisting the dispute “is clearly a matter for the hospitals and their staff”, a SIPTU spokesperson said further action was now likely.
“They have a duty to provide us with this information and if they refuse then we will be taking the matter to the Minister for Health,” the spokesperson warned.
VHI has seen its profit margin crumble in recent months as a direct result of customers being unable to afford their cover.
The company expects to generate underwriting losses of €80m for 2009, and more than €170m in meeting the healthcare needs of 280,000 customers over the age of 60.