AT least 1,200 members of the ambulance service across the country will begin nationwide strike action on April 7.
The Health Service Executive and SIPTU, which represents the paramedics, are expected to meet in the coming days to discuss how emergency cover will be provided on the day that virtually all ambulance workers go on strike.
“We are not doing any messing around on this. It is the first time in history that the service nationally has been affected by strike action,” said Matt Merrigan of SIPTU.
The strike is in protest at the HSE’s decision to use private ambulance services. SIPTU has alleged that over the Christmas period, the HSE awarded three contracts to Blackrock, Medicall and Lifeline ambulance services for work which its members would normally have carried out.
The battle over private ambulance providers began in mid-2007 when the union discovered the HSE had sought “expressions of interest” in the provision of private services.
An emergency meeting of the two sides was called and, according to the union, it was agreed that a subcommittee would be formed to look at the situation.
“It transpired that while discussions were taking place between the union and management team, management were interviewing and assessing the applications from the private ambulance providers,” said Mr Merrigan.
“The HSE signed the contractors during the Christmas/new year period with three separate companies.
“The union committee considers it a complete breach of faith in its dealings with the ambulance management against a background of attempting to develop a national ambulance service with its staff delivering a professional service to the public.”
In Dublin, the fire brigade provides coverage in addition to the HSE. However, Mr Merrigan said he did not envisage the brigade being able to cover the shortfall in service.
“They are already complaining they are overstretched,” he said.
The HSE said it was disappointed at SIPTU’s decision to serve three weeks’ notice of industrial action.
“The notice of industrial action is in breach of the agreed dispute resolution procedure for the health services and is also in breach of the industrial relations provisions of Towards 2016,” it said.
“The HSE will be making contact with SIPTU in the coming days with the purpose of agreeing contingency arrangements.”
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