The Government has been accused of abusing the negotiations process as 10,000 hospital workers plan to go on strike.
Industrial action planned by Siptu workers, including catering staff, porters, cleaners and technicians, will affect patient and client services across 38 hospitals and healthcare facilities.
The Government came under sustained criticism during Leader's Questions where opposition parties called on the Taoiseach Leo Varadkar to act “in the next hour” to halt the strike.
The Taoiseach hopes the union representing health support workers will reconsider proposals to hold talks at the Labour Court in a bid to avert tomorrow's strike.
Around 10,000 staff will take to the picket lines from 8am in the morning for 24 hours.
The dispute has emerged between workers and the HSE over what Siptu claims is a failure to implement increases in pay for workers after a job evaluation scheme deemed the staff were underpaid.
The initial response from the Government was that the increase would be paid in 2021 when all the stages of the evaluation are complete.
The Taoiseach said that in order to come to a deal the Government had agreed to phase-in these pay increases from November 2019, “out of good will”, in an effort to resolve the dispute, which was not accepted by the union.
The first strike, which was due to take place last week, was called off to allow for further talks, however discussions at the Workplace Relations Commission failed, and the union has since refused the Government’s offer of taking the matter to the Labour Court.
Today in the #Dáil at #LeadersQuestions @PearseDoherty called on the government to engage meaningfully & in good faith with @SIPTU to resolve the strike due to begin tomorrow It’s not too late..it just takes political will @siptuhealth @sinnfeinireland stands with health workers!— Louise O’Reilly TD for Dublin Fingal (@loreillysf) June 25, 2019
Mr Varadkar believes the dispute over a pay evaluation scheme can be resolved at the Labour Court.
Speaking in the Dáil this afternoon, the Taoiseach said any negative impact on patients can be avoided.
Mr Varadkar said: "This can be resolved, the offer to go to the Labour court stands, and if it is a matter of trust, the Labour Court is independent.
"The Labour Court can hear all sides to the argument, can make a determination and in that way the dispute can be resolved and we can avoid any negative effect on patients across these 38 hospitals."
Sinn Féin’s Pearse Doherty noted that those striking are generally low-paid workers, and are not asking for huge increases, but for what was recommended by the evaluation.
“They perform invaluable work and deserve to be treated and paid accordingly,” Mr Doherty said.
“These people are not making blind pay claims, it’s about honouring agreements that your Government signed off on, it is there in black and white, and the Government has failed to provide and honour the agreements it entered into.
“And despite your usual efforts to paint workers and indeed their unions as unreasonable and all the rest, they’re not seeking enrichment, far from it, for example, a healthcare assistant enjoys an entry-level pay of less than €28,000, even with the increase under the job evaluation scheme, they’ll still be earning less than €30,000.
"So nobody is getting rich here."
“It’s not as a matter of urgency, but an option of last resort, we understand HSE has asked for this money to be provided and you’re refusing to honour that agreement.
“You need to honour your word and the commitment that was made to these workers four years ago.”
Likewise, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin noted that “the reason Siptu are reluctant to go to the Labour Court, is that they believe the Government has been dragging its feet and is not serious about the implementation of the job evaluation scheme recommendations.”
The Taoiseach noted that the HSE received €17bn this year and it is “not reasonable, in my mind, for an agency to receive a big budget increase to come back looking for additional increases in spending during the year”.
“I have to take into account the very strong advice of the fiscal advisory council during the year,” he said.
The Labour Party and People Before Profit have also launched attacks on the Government, with Labour’s Alan Kelly accusing Fine Gael of stoking the strike rather than seeking resolution.
The HSE say they are continuing to engage on contingency planning with Siptu at local hospital and healthcare facility level.
“This is to ensure minimum disruption to patient services, in so far as possible, and to ensure patient dignity and that essential daily care remains in place,” a spokeswoman said.
- The 38 hospitals affected are:
- Cork University Hospital
- Cork University Maternity Hospital
- Kerry University Hospital
- Mallow General Hospital
- South Infirmary Hospital, Cork
- South Tipperary General Hospital
- Wexford General Hospital
- St Lukes Hospital Carlow / Kilkenny
- Mercy Hospital Cork
- Connolly Hospital Blanchardstown
- National Rehabilitation Hospital
- Beaumont Hospital
- St Ita’s Portrane
- Mater Hospital
- St James Hospital
- St Vincent’s University Hospital
- Tallaght Hospital
- Our Lady’s Hospital, Navan
- Louth County Hospital
- Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital Drogheda
- Our Lady’s Children’s Hospital, Crumlin
- Rotunda Hospital
- Central Mental Hospital
- Midland Regional Hospital, Mullingar
- Midland Regional Hospital, Tullamore
- Midland Regional Hospital, Portlaoise
- Naas General Hospital
- Cavan General Hospital
- Letterkenny University Hospital
- Sligo General Hospital
- Roscommon Hospital
- Portiuncula Hospital, Ballinasloe
- Galway University Hospital
- Merlin Park
- Mayo University Hospital
- UL Hospital Dooradoyle
- UL Maternity Hospital
- UL Orthopaedic Hospital, Croom