Clarification from the HSE that nurses and midwives will not be discriminated against because they have children to care for has been welcomed by the Irish Nurses and Midwives Association.
However the trade union, Fórsa, said the HSE guidance on childcare supports for essential workers fell far short of what was required to assist essential health staff and to maximise the numbers available in hospitals, community health services and nursing homes.
INMO general secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha, said that while they were still awaiting alternative childcare recommendations from the National Public Health Emergency Team they welcomed "clarification from the HSE which states that frontline healthcare workers will be treated equally to other public servants.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha went on: “The HSE’s document sets out that managers must be extremely flexible, using rostering and other means to ensure that workers can safely balance childcare and work.
“Where that’s not possible employees may be assigned alternative duties at home. This would allow them to continue to work, but also to take care of their children.
“They will be paid their full salary and allowances, and will be considered available for duty – not forced to use any form of leave.”
Ms Ní Sheaghdha said it was a welcome step to ensuring that frontline nurses and midwives were not discriminated against simply because they have children to care for.
Trade union, Fórsa, said the HSE had confirmed that it was essentially following Department of Public Expenditure and Reform guidance on childcare supports for essential workers.
However, this fell far short of what was required to assist essential health staff and to maximise the numbers available in hospitals, community health services and nursing homes.
It had been widely reported that the HSE was considering paid leave for staff with childcare responsibilities, clarification from the health authority confirmed that this would not happen.
“To avoid confusion among health workers, Fórsa sought clarification on the grounds that such a proposal seemed to contradict official Department of Public Expenditure and Reform advice,” the union stated.
It was also unclear how it would be compatible with providing essential services during the Covid-19 public health crisis, it added.
While health unions have pressed the Government to deliver on its commitment to provide childcare supports, Fórsa did not seek the proposal floated by the HSE on Tuesday.
The staff panel that represents all health unions has repeatedly sought a solution where the HSE provides direct childcare support to essential workers and/or meets the costs of the childcare arrangements that individual staff members put in place for their children.
Fórsa told the HSE that the union’s position remains unchanged and urgent action by the Government was now needed.
It is almost seven weeks since the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar announced the closure of all schools and creches.
At the time Fórsa and other health unions were assured that the Government would quickly put childcare supports in place for essential healthcare staff.
According to the guidance issued by the department states that there is no special paid leave available for Covid-19 caring arrangements during this time and that all forms of flexible working must be considered including working from home and/or working adjusted hours to facilitate employees to balance work and caring responsibilities.
Childcare representative body, Seas Suas, wants guidance to be provided quickly to address the immediate challenge of providing practical and workable childcare provision for healthcare workers and also childcare provision generally in the weeks and months ahead.