Thursday, 23 September 2021
Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh (Atógáil) - Priority Questions (Resumed)
Public Sector Staff
All front-line health workers who worked through the Covid-19 crisis should be given an extra two weeks' annual leave or the option to receive two weeks' extra pay instead. Will the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform set aside the money for these healthcare workers to show them the respect they deserve?
I thank the Deputy for his question. The Government acknowledges the contribution of our front-line healthcare workers and all workers across the economy during the Covid-19 pandemic. The value of the contribution made by our front-line workers across the economy cannot be overstated. Their hard work and sacrifice have been crucial to getting the country through this pandemic and the Government is committed to recognising those efforts.
Working together has been a key element of the Government’s approach to the pandemic to date and this should form part of any approach to recognition. It is important that in deciding on our approach to recognition, we recognise the contribution of workers across the public and private sector. The Government must consider the whole of society and the economy in its deliberations on this matter.
My Government colleagues and I will be considering many issues regarding recognition. In addition to the breadth of recognition, the timing and service delivery impact of any approach must be taken into account. I assure the Deputy that this issue is a priority for the Government and will be addressed in the near future.
The claim for ten days' additional leave for public service healthcare workers for special recognition due to Covid-19 was referred to the Labour Court and the hearing took place on Monday, 13 September. As the Deputy knows, earlier this week the Labour Court issued its recommendation, which the HSE will now consider. While the HSE is the party directly involved in the Labour Court hearings, my Department will work with it to assist it in bringing the matter to a conclusion in the coming weeks. It would not be appropriate for me to comment in any further detail at this point. I look forward to engaging with the Deputy further on his supplementary questions.
I thank the Minister for his reply. The healthcare workers gave so much in a very difficult time and continue to do so. Other than a clap here in the Dáil and a few nice words, they have got nothing. Even in regard to the smallest thing, the nurses had to pay their registration fees last year. That little bit of acknowledgement could have been given so that we could at least have been seen to be caring. It has been a terribly difficult time for everybody and certainly for people on the front line. Many of these people could not go home to their families for days on end for obvious reasons. They were left in great anguish and had difficulties finding people to look after their children. We need to step up to the mark and show some appreciation. What are the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform's plans for nurses?
Our healthcare workers have been extraordinary over the past 18 months and that extraordinary effort warrants special recognition from the Government. Whatever we do in the coming weeks must be done in a fair and inclusive way. The Deputy has placed the emphasis on healthcare workers, which is justifiable. However, there are many others across the public service who did great work over this time, including those in the Prison Service, Garda, Defence Forces, the Department of Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners, all of whom continued to work along with many others in the public sector. In the private sector, shop workers kept the show on the road in the darkest of days of the Covid-19 pandemic along with cleaners and refuse collectors. We need to consider all these issues and to be as fair as we possibly can.
There is a very significant cost associated with the claim that was lodged by the INMO and other health worker unions for ten days' leave across the health service. The minimum cost would be €377 million given that it would almost certainly involve a level of overtime and agency staff to provide the necessary cover, the cost would almost certainly exceed €500 million. To provide the same ten days' leave across the full public service, the cost would exceed €1 billion. The costs are very significant
I understand the costs might be significant, but the value of these workers must be acknowledged by the country. I know the budget needs to be stretched considerably. The cross-border health initiative has not been properly discussed. The Minister has said the HSE is looking into this, which concerns me particularly when I consider how admissions were closed for 16 or 17 days at Bantry General Hospital, and how South Doc has been withdrawn from the people in Castletownbere. If we leave things to the HSE, we could be in serious trouble not getting the funds these workers need.
There is another issue with visiting patients. People are not allowed visit their partners in maternity units. Nobody can visit the elderly and infirm. I have received many calls regarding elderly people who cannot have somebody by their side during very serious times of their lives in hospital. At the end of the day, the healthcare workers have proved themselves to be invaluable to the country and they need to be looked after. I leave it in the good hands of the Minister that he will do that for them.
As the Deputy knows, the Labour Court recommendation provides that the parties to the issue must make every effort to achieve clarity as regards potential arrangements to address the claim within the earliest opportunity and in any event during the autumn.
The Government intends to deal with this issue in consultation with the representatives of the workers. We recognise the heroic efforts of our front-line healthcare staff, who deserve great praise and to be recognised. I am making the point that there is a wide range of other workers in the public service who also went beyond the call of duty and who we need to treat fairly. We need to do this in a balanced and inclusive way and we also need to engage with the private sector because there are many people across the private sector who also kept the show on the road and looked after all of us when that was needed. We need to take all of that into account. There are always financial constraints but the Government will bring forward a proposal to provide for the special recognition that is richly deserved.