Tuesday, 30 April 2013
Labour Court Recommendations
Cuirim fáilte roimh an Aire Stáit. I thank the Minister of State, Deputy McGinley, for coming in to take this matter. I will be as brief as I can. Labour Court Recommendation 19550 relates to approximately 4,100 home care workers who worked in non-profit making organisations, the majority of which were funded by the HSE in the home help sector. The Labour Court recommendation stated: "Having considered the submissions put to it on this case, the Court is of the view that the best way to deal with the matter is by way of a Gratuity Scheme based on 4.5 weeks' pay per year of service." This relates to the fact that previous Labour Court recommendations had effectively bestowed upon workers in the sector the same rights as direct employees of the HSE. There are other recommendations with regard to sick pay which have not been dealt with yet either but I am dealing with this issue specifically. It relates to approximately 4,000 workers represented by SIPTU an approximately 80 others represented by IMPACT.
I wrote directly to the Minister for Health and the parliamentary affairs division of the HSE. This issue is relevant to several agencies, including Fingal Home Care, which I am representing, and workers in that sector who worked between 2000 and 2008. The reply from the HSE stated that a number of agencies submitted the requested data to the HSE and that the information was subjected to meetings both internally and with colleagues in the Department of Health and the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. Unfortunately, the HSE indicated that is was not in a position to fund the significant costs which arose nor was any additional funding made available for it to do so. That position was advised to both staff representatives and agencies in 2012. The HSE concluded by stating that due to current financial constraints the position remains.
I have a small degree of sympathy for that case but the fact remains that there are several thousand workers who have made contributions and who are entitled to average payments of between €12,000 and €15,000 for up to eight years of service within the sector. They are entitled to these payments and two Labour Court recommendations have reaffirmed as much. Most of these workers have retired from the sector but they had relatively low-paid jobs, earning anything between €9 and €11 per hour, and therefore the average payment of approximately €12,000 is significant to them. It is within the gift of the Department of Health and the Minister to affirm the recommendation and to pay the moneys. The moneys are due to these workers and they are entitled to them for the period 2000 to 2008.
I have taken up the case of and met approximately 90 workers in my area of Fingal, Dublin, but this is relevant throughout the country. It is not only relevant to Fingal but I am starting on that premise.
The payment is not significant in the context of the overall health budget. The money is owed to these workers who have worked at the front line of the health services. All of us fully recognise the great work that home help workers carry out and the value of that work. If we recognise the value of the work they do, surely they are entitled to the gratuity payment that has been affirmed by the Labour Court. I am keen to hear the response of the Minister of State and I thank him again for coming in to take this matter.
The Government and the HSE, as the statutory body responsible for the delivery of health and personal social services, recognise the important and valuable role of home helps in enabling older persons to live in their homes and communities in accordance with Government policy. Home help and home care are delivered by the HSE, voluntary, not-for-profit and private service providers. These non-statutory organisations are funded by the HSE under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, which provides that the executive may assist a body that provides a service similar or ancillary to those which the executive may provide. The pay and superannuation terms and conditions of the staff of such providers are not subject to the control of the Department of Health and, as such, these staff are not classified as public servants.
Access for home helps in voluntary organisations to a pension scheme similar to that provided for home helps in the employment of the HSE has been the subject of several Labour Court recommendations involving SIPTU, IMPACT and the HSE. Pension access for home helps directly employed by the HSE was addressed by the Department in 2005. Access to the scheme is strictly limited to staff employed directly by the HSE. It is not available to home helps employed by voluntary agencies because they are not public servants. In June 2009, following a hearing of union claims for access to a pension scheme for staff of voluntary home help providers, the Labour Court recommended that this issue should be dealt with by way of a gratuity scheme based on four and a half weeks' pay per year of service and that the scheme should take effect from the date of the home helps' collective agreement of August 2000.
Given the serious budgetary constraints under which the HSE has been operating in the period since the recommendation was made, the executive has not been in a position to provide the necessary funding to the employers concerned. This position was advised to the staff representatives and the agencies in February 2012. At present it is not possible, given the Government's financial requirement that health service funding should be focused to the greatest possible extent on maintaining front-line services, to indicate a point at which it may be possible to re-examine the issue.
I thank the Minister of State for taking the time to come to the House and give his response and I will not detain him any longer. I am disappointed with the response. I appreciate why the Minister for Health cannot be here this evening. I call on the Minister of State to bring this back to the Minister for Health. It has been outlined clearly that the Government is not even arguing that these workers are not entitled to these payments. I have written to the Minister for Health to try to quantify what the cost would be to the Department of Health.
I will continue to pursue the matter and this is simply the beginning. These workers are entitled to this money. It is difficult because I cannot explain to them, nor should I have to, why we are not paying them although it has been affirmed independently that they are entitled to these payments, which average approximately €12,000. I call on the Minister of State to bring this back to the Minister for Health. I have written to him to quantify the matter and I will continue to raise it. We will look at other legal venues available to the workers to ensure they get the money they are due.
I thank Senator O'Brien for raising the matter. His comments will be conveyed to the Minister. I have much sympathy for the case Senator O'Brien is making. I realise, recognise and acknowledge the excellent work being done by home helps throughout the country. Unfortunately, we are in a financial situation in this country whereby there are things we can afford and other matters that we cannot afford. I hope time will bring the solution.