Strike by 'frustrated' medical scientists to disrupt hospital lab testing

Strike by 'frustrated' medical scientists to disrupt hospital lab testing

'There is huge frustration among our members that the severe recruitment and retention problems in the sector have been ignored,' according to MLSA chairperson Kevin O’Boyle. Stock picture

The union of medical scientists will take full industrial action over a pay dispute on March 30 meaning hospital laboratory testing will close around the country for 12 hours.

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association (MLSA) represents more than 1,800 members working in HSE hospitals, public voluntary hospitals, private hospitals, and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service.

They have been engaged in talks with the HSE and the department of health through various forums since early 2020 regarding pay and working conditions but said on Thursday afternoon that agreement could not be reached.

The executive committee decision was taken following unsuccessful talks within the Building Momentum public sector agreement, the union said.

One in five medical scientist roles is currently unfilled, with long-standing pay and career development problems behind the recruitment challenge, according to the MLSA.

Chairperson Kevin O’Boyle said medical scientists are highly frustrated and want their long-standing issues to be resolved: 

In its 60-year history the MLSA has only once taken full industrial action, and that was in 1969, so this is a big step. However, we are left with no alternative.

“While we regret the difficulties it may cause, there is huge frustration among our members that the severe recruitment and retention problems in the sector have been ignored and they strongly support taking action.” 

MLSA general secretary Terry Casey said that the union’s door remains open to any meaningful approach or solution from the HSE which could avert the action.

“There has been a long build up to this moment,” he said.

The claim was served in January 2020 and followed by sectorial bargaining talks, as well as talks with the HSE and department of health at the Workplace Relations Commission, he said.

The industrial action is set to last from 8am to 8pm on March 30, with two further days planned for April 5 and 7 if there is no resolution.

MLSA members voted 98% in favour of taking industrial action last November, having earlier voted to reject the Building Momentum public sector agreement by 96%.

Mr Casey said the pay dispute dates back to 2002 and centres on the lack of pay parity between medical scientists and scientific colleagues who work alongside them in the biochemistry laboratories.

Medical scientists carry out identical work, with the same responsibilities, and yet are paid on average 8% less, with fewer promotional and career development opportunities and less support for training and education.

He pointed to pay increases awarded to nurses, consultants and laboratory aides in recent years as a contrast.

“For medical scientists this, combined with the advancing role of laboratory diagnostics, increased responsibility, increased workloads and the long-standing challenges in recruitment and retention mean these employment issues need to be addressed with the HSE, the Department of Health, and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform,” he said.

He pointed to the “ongoing significant national shortage” of medical scientists, and said this is directly linked to the inferior pay and conditions as well as limited promotional opportunities.

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