SouthDoc criticised for announcing layoffs during Covid-19 pandemic

SouthDoc, the out-of-hours family doctor service, has blamed the Covid-19 pandemic for a raft of temporary staff layoffs.
SouthDoc criticised for announcing layoffs during Covid-19 pandemic

SouthDoc, the out-of-hours GP service, has been criticised for announcing a raft of temporary layoffs during the Covid-19 pandemic.

SIPTU has criticised the service for bypassing the union, and TDs have called for a public clarification on the decision to lay off skilled medical service staff during an unprecedented public health crisis.

It is understood the decision will affect up to 40 administrative staff.

The decision comes less that two weeks after SouthDoc closed several local clinics as part of what it called a "consolidated model" of service delivery as the virus outbreak was beginning.

Its services are still operating from clinics off Cork's Kinsale Rd roundabout, in Bandon, Mallow, Midleton and Castletownbere, and in Kerry from it clinics Killarney, Tralee, Dingle and Caherciveen.

In a letter to staff, seen by the Irish Examiner, SouthDoc said the layoffs are required to "protect the operational viability" of the service.

"Having fully examined and reviewed all matters including our operational requirements we do not anticipate there is any alternative productive work currently available for certain staff members," it said.

The layoffs will be temporary but the duration of the layoffs is uncertain given the "unprecedented times", it said.

It said it will evaluate the circumstances regularly and will recall staff to centres when the need arises.

It also told affected employees to submit a claim for Covid-19 payment as soon as possible.

“We appreciate and recognise this is difficult for staff and we have done or utmost to minimise any disruption to staff regrettably the current arrangements are necessary and unavoidable," it said.

But trade union, SIPTU, has written to SouthDoc expressing concern that the layoffs were not discussed with union reps.

The union also pointed out that while SouthDoc is a fully-funded section 39 organisation aligned to HSE terms and conditions of employment, it has not applied to its staff the set of HSE arrangements agreed nationally to address the impact of Covid-19 on jobs.

"It is our understanding that HSE funding is not being reduced or curtailed during this period and it should be possible to retain staff earnings," SIPTU said.

"We are asking as there is no reduction in HSE funding why our members being laid off without pay and we expect the status quo to remain until an agreed alternative proposal is presented to the union."

Sinn Féin TD Thomas Gould called on SouthDoc to guarantee that the closed centres will reopen when the pandemic is declared over.

"I am also calling for guarantees that the affected staff will be re-hired with the same terms and conditions. I just hope that people aren't using the pandemic to streamline operations," he said.

Socialist TD for Cork North Central, Mick Barry, criticised the timing and nature of the announcement.

"When the nation was out on their doorsteps last night applauding health workers, SouthDoc workers were being laid off without pay," he said.

"SouthDoc bypassed the union, they bypassed national agreements and the workers' suspicion that scores are being settled here after the recent strike seem credible.

"We need all hands on deck in our health service and if SouthDoc is to be consolidated then redeployment would seem a better option than layoffs for these workers."

Labour TD for Cork East, Sean Sherlock, called on the SouthDoc board to issue a public clarification.

“There was certainly an understanding that staff would be redeployed to other centres during this public health emergency," he said.

"The closure of a number of centres was also understood by staff to mean that it was on the basis of ensuring the safety and health of staff.

"It was not understood that qualified health administrative staff would be laid off.

“It has been conveyed to me by those staff with the sword of Damocles hanging over their heads, that this is a precursor to permanent layoffs. This has to be clarified by SouthDoc."

He also questioned why any staff member with the skills of those in SouthDoc would be laid off in the middle of a health crisis.

Southdoc was unavailable for comment.

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