Tuesday, 13 February 2018
Health Services Staff Remuneration
I welcome the Minster of State. I raise the issue of Newport day care centre in County Tipperary. The centre was established in 1992 and now caters for hundreds of elderly folk from the parishes of Newport, Toor, Birdhill, Ballinahinch, Killoscully, Ballina, my own village of Castleconnell, Kilcommon and Rearcross each week in a manner that has changed the quality of life for many of them for the better. A small team of ten health care professionals provide a wide range of community, health, well-being and respite services. Without this facility, hundreds of service users would have to attend at the already vastly overcrowded University Hospital Limerick for their health care needs. The staff have an extremely heavy workload and, like so many others in the sector, regularly go above and beyond their job specifications to ensure that the highest standards of care and support for their clients. Above all, there is a great sense of community that runs through the heart of everything that is done at the centre. The range of community and health services provided make a crucial difference to the lives of so many people in the Tipperary and Limerick region.
The staff who provide this excellent range of services had their pay cut without negotiation in 2008. A decade on, their pay remains exactly where it was after that cut. They see their colleagues and other HSE-funded organisations that have benefited from pay restoration or other section 39 organisations that now, thankfully, have a means of redress through a structured and transparent pay restoration mechanism agreed between my union, SIPTU, and the Department of Health and the HSE. Where is the roadmap for the workers at the Newport day care centre to achieve their pay restoration? Where is their means of achieving any kind of pay rise after a decade enduring a significant pay cut which was imposed without agreement? That pay cut was imposed as a result of a direct instruction from the HSE to the manager of Newport day care centre.
We know this facility is suffering from significant underfunding. We know it because the management of Newport day care centre has - in writing - cited underfunding as the reason they will not attend the Workplace Relations Commission; they have no financial means of addressing the claims of the SIPTU members working at the centre. As management will not attend the Workplace Relations Commission, the workers concerned have no choice but to ballot for industrial action. This is a publicly-funded facility. Surely the workers must have some means of redress, surely they deserve some hope after years of loyal service and surely there is a responsibility on the Minister of State to make this possible. I am asking her to include these workers in the mechanism for pay restoration for section 39 workers. Otherwise they will be left with no choice but to initiate industrial action. Nobody wants a strike to take place, least of all the workers themselves. It will take place, however, unless the Minister of State provides a means for these workers to press their legitimate claim for pay restoration.
I am responding on behalf of the Minister of State, Deputy Finian McGrath. I thank Senator Gavan for raising this issue.
The overarching policy of the Government is to support older people to live with dignity and independence in their homes and communities for as long as possible and to support access to quality long-term residential care where this is appropriate The HSE has operational responsibility for planning, managing and delivering health and personal social services including home help, home care packages, meals on wheels, respite or day care and a range of other community based supports. Services are delivered through the HSE and its funded agencies to people in local communities, as close as possible to people’s homes.
Our ageing population is one of the most significant demographic and societal developments that Ireland has encountered in modern times. Not only are people living longer, but a great many people are staying healthier and living better for a longer time. Demand for community services is rising as more people are supported in their own homes rather than in hospitals or nursing homes. Access to day care centres such as Newport can make an important contribution by providing invaluable support, advice and social interaction for older people who may for any number of reasons be experiencing isolation and loneliness.
The Senator asks about funding of the Newport day care centre. In 2017, the centre received funding of €228,000 from the HSE. This included national lottery funding of €1,500.The HSE funds this organisation through a grant under section 39 of the Health Act 2004. Section 39 legally underpins the provision of services similar or supplementary to services the HSE may provide.
The Senator also referred to an impending ballot for industrial action in this organisation. I understand this is a ballot on the restoration of pay to staff. The Senator will be aware that last Friday, the Minister for Health, Deputy Simon Harris, welcomed a deferral of industrial action by section 39 workers. He has also confirmed that the Department of Health, the HSE and trade unions have agreed that the HSE would carry out an analysis to establish whether supporting evidence shows whether, when and to what extent reductions in pay rates were applied during the crisis in each relevant organisation; whether, when and to what extent restoration of pay reductions have happened; and to identify financial implications for such organisations, taking account of all of the resources of funding associated with addressing the issue and identifying and proposing an appropriate plan of phased resolution in each case. The HSE will continue the data gathering exercise immediately, initially in respect of an agreed list of organisations. The data gathering exercise should be completed as early as possible. An interim report is expected to be published by the end of March 2018.
Dispute resolution in Ireland is based on the concept of parties voluntarily seeking to resolve their differences with industrial relations mechanisms provided by the State. This would include availing of services provided by the Workplace Relations Commission and the Labour Court. The process I have set out should resolve the situation in respect of the pay issue in section 39 funded organisations at a national level. The Workplace Relations Commission plays a pivotal role in brokering agreement between the parties on such matters. On that basis, I cannot speak highly enough of these bodies and support they provide to workers and employees. At a local level, I hope that staff and management in the Newport Day Care Centre in Tipperary continue to work towards progressing issues on a consensus basis using the recognised industrial relations channels which they have open to them.
I thank the Minister of State for her response. I note she stated that she hoped staff and management in Newport Day Care Centre in Tipperary would continue to work towards progressing issues on a consensus basis using the recognised industrial relations channels that are open to them. Unfortunately, a channel is not open to them given that the management have said it cannot attend the WRC because there is no funding from the Government.
It would be very helpful, given that the staff are being balloted this week and service users and staff are listening to this debate today, if the Minister of State could confirm that the staff at Newport Day Care Centre will be included in the section 39 pay restoration mechanisms she has outlined. A simple "Yes" would put the staff's minds at ease and guarantee they have a process open to them. If she cannot say "Yes" then, unfortunately, industrial action will be pursued. I am hoping she will give a positive answer in response to the workers in Newport Day Care Centre and the clients who value the service.
I will read a prepared statement and add to it. I again thank the Senator for raising the matter. He will appreciate that the Newport Day Care Centre is funded by the HSE under section 39 of the Health Act 2004 and neither the Minister nor the HSE have a direct role in determining the salaries or other terms and conditions applying to the staff. This means that I cannot get involved in local disputes arising in these bodies.
However, as I noted earlier, the services of the Workplace Relations Commission provide valuable resources and are available to bodies and individuals who find themselves involved in disputes in the workplace. I would urge all parties to take full advantage of this service where possible in order that a positive and workable solution can be found for all involved. I am clear in my view that any disputes which are ongoing in health care services should be minimised and addressed as early as possible. We must avoid any impact on the more vulnerable members of society, such as those availing of services at the Newport Day Care Centre.The Senator has asked me to give him a "Yes" or "No" answer. I cannot do that. I have read the reply, but I will speak to the Minister later about what he said about the staff feeling that they do not have a channel to go through. Perhaps the Minister will come back to the Senator with a formal answer.