The army is being drafted in to provide emergency ambulance cover today as the first of a series of industrial actions set to grip the country over the coming weeks takes place.
The Defence Forces are poised to provide emergency cover in Cork today during a nationwide paramedics’ strike which could take more than 100 ambulances off the road.
And with just over a week to the nurses’ strike, their representative organisations have referred the dispute to the Workplace Relations Commission.
Separately, the country’s search and rescue helicopter service risks being grounded in the coming weeks in a dispute over pilot rosters.
Today, Defence Forces medics and army ambulances will be positioned in Cork’s Collins Barracks in case they are needed during the 10-hour action by up to 500 members of the National Ambulance Service Representative Association (NASRA).
Members of the group, which is affiliated to the Psychiatric Nurses Association, will withdraw labour from 7am to 5pm in an escalation of their dispute with the HSE and the National Ambulance Service (NAS) over union recognition and the deduction of union subscriptions.
NASRA spokesman, Tony Gregg, said the dispute will affect 70% of the national ambulance fleet.
In Cork, it is expected the strike will leave towns like Mallow, Midleton, Youghal, Kanturk, Millstreet and Clonakilty without an ambulance. Cork City will be down three ambulances.
Mr Gregg said:
As far as we can, we try to ensure there will be no impact on the provision of a frontline emergency service. Our members will respond from the picket line to life-threatening or potentially life-threatening incidents. But we will not be doing inter-hospital transfers.
He said they have submitted an emergency response and contingency plan to the HSE’s legal representatives. But he said apart from requests for clarification, the HSE has not engaged with them on their contingency plans.
He said there was still time last night for the strike to be averted and called on Health Minister Simon Harris to intervene. He said members of the union’s local strike committees are ready at eight locations nationwide and at short notice to meet local NAS management to discuss contingency plans. But he warned that union officials are already discussing further industrial action.
The remaining workers in the ambulance service, who are represented mainly by Siptu, are expected to work as normal today.
David Hall, who runs the private ambulance service Lifeline, which provides a range of services to the NAS through the HSE, said he will not be providing additional resources for the NAS today over and above his regular deployment.
NASRA is a breakaway union, affiliated to the PNA, which has been trying to negotiate with the HSE on behalf of its members. The HSE has refused to recognise the union’s negotiating rights for staff it represents, including paramedics, advanced paramedics and emergency medical technicians.
The PNA has said today’s work stoppage is not about pay — it’s simply about its members right to be represented by the trade union of their choice.
Meanwhile, preparations for the series of 24-hour nurses’ strikes that commence on January 30, are continuing.
Representatives of the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and the Psychiatric Nurses Association met with officials from the HSE and Department of Health in Dublin yesterday.
Afterwards, INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said it was a “deeply disappointing” meeting.
“The employer made no proposals to avert the upcoming strike,” she said.
And separately, more than 90% of the search and rescue helicopter service’s pilots, who are represented by the Irish Airline Pilots’ Association, have voted to approve industrial action, up to and including strike action.
The union has claimed there are “recruitment and retention issues” for pilots at the rescue service, which it insists has remained operational because of the pilots’ “goodwill” and the “tolerance” of their families.