Monday, 12 July 2021
Nithe i dtosach suíonna - Commencement Matters
Health Service Staff Pay
I thank the Minister, Deputy O'Gorman, for being in the House. I wish to address the failure of the Government to address the pay restoration issue for employees in health and social care sector who are employed by community and voluntary organisations. What has transpired during the past two years represents a blatant disregard for fairness and equality of treatment. To illustrate my point I will use an example of Clarecare, a professional social enterprise with charitable status providing a range of services to individuals and families in County Clare for the past 50 years. It has a workforce of approximately 420. Its services include family support services, elderly care services, counselling and addiction therapy in a residential facility. It has a wonderful ethos and staff who are truly amazing. They provide an enormous service to citizens across the county. They are highly treasured and really professional. They do an enormously good job.
Until 2014, the HSE provided all the funding to Clarecare, particularly for funding towards family support services as well as the elderly care services under what is known as a section 39 agreement. In April 2010 during the economic crash, the HSE reduced funding to Clarecare and other organisations for salaries to the tune of 4%. That had to be passed on by Clarecare to all staff. When Tusla was established in 2014 the funding of the family support services provided to Clarecare was transferred from the HSE to Tusla and since then that funding has been provided to the Clarecare under what is known as a section 56 service level agreement.
In January of this year, the HSE began pay restoration to those contracted under a section 39 agreement. However, as I understand it, no such restoration has been promised or provided to those under a section 56 agreement. In practical terms, we have a team of workers who are contracted by the State through Clarecare to provide health and social care services in County Clare. A pay cut was enforced on all of them in 2010. Pay restoration was recommenced in January of this year but only some of the workers qualify. That begs the obvious question: why? They have been told if the HSE is providing the funding they will get their pay restoration but for those who were funded by the HSE when the pay cuts were introduced in 2010 and since 2014 have been funded by Tusla, it is tough luck, they do not get restoration. That does not seem fair to me and it certainly is not seen as fair by the workers on the ground. Neither is seen as fair by the people who they work with, assist and help on a daily basis. In truth, as far as all those people are concerned, they are doing the same work they did when their funding came through the HSE stream, albeit their funding is now coming through a different route. They find it hard to understand why they are not getting pay restoration. The reality is it is State and taxpayer-funded. The fact that it is a section 39 or a section 56 service level agreement should not matter to the people on the ground.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s views on this matter. It is blatant discrimination for a group of people who were treated in a fair and equitable way up to a certain point to now discover because their funding was transferred to a different Department they do not qualify for pay restoration of pay in terms of the pay cut they took in unison with everybody else at the time. I look forward to the Minister’s deliberations on that.
I thank the Senator for raising this matter. As he said, section 39 of the Health Act 2004 relates to funding of bodies by the HSE and section 56 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013 relates to funding by Tusla. When the Senator raised this issue with the Minister for Health, he acknowledged it would be inappropriate for him to comment in respect of the operation of section 56 as matters funded under it relate to Tusla and fall within the remit of my Department.
As Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth, I highly value the work undertaken by the community and voluntary sector which provide services funded by Tusla under section 56 of the 2013 Act. I am very conscious and appreciative of the impact these organisations and their staff have on improving outcomes for children, young people and families all over Ireland.
The Minister for Health has advised me that under section 39 of the Health Act 2004, the HSE provides financial assistance to organisations by means of a grant. Section 39 legally underpins the provision of services similar or supplementary to a service the HSE may provide.I understand that pay restoration was secured under a Workplace Relations Commission agreement between the Department of Health and the HSE on the one hand, and the unions representing the workers of section 39 organisations on the other. The section 39 organisations to which the agreement applied included those with service arrangements in place in 2013 which were still in place in 2019 and that received in excess of an agreed, specified amount from the HSE, which I understand was €250,000 per year. This was achieved through an agreed process on a phased basis.
Since the establishment of Tusla in 2014, the agency has funded many organisations, mostly in the community and voluntary sector, to deliver services on its behalf under sections 56 to 59 of the Child and Family Agency Act 2013. These commissioned services fulfil Tusla's statutory responsibilities and deliver on the agency's strategic objectives. Such organisations are important partners in the work of the agency and I value the unique position many of them are in that enable them to deliver services which can respond quickly to the needs of children and families in their local communities. I acknowledge that some of these organisations were funded by the HSE under section 39 of the Health Act 2004 prior to the establishment of Tusla in 2014. However, section 56(14) of the Act is clear that "an arrangement under this section shall not give rise to an employment relationship between a service provider, its employees or agents on the one hand and the Agency on the other". Therefore, these organisations operate independently of Tusla and are responsible for the recruitment of their employees and for the terms and conditions under which they are employed. Tusla is not the employer of the staff of such organisations and the remuneration of these staff is a matter for their own employers.
While Tusla is not the employer of the staff in organisations funded by section 56, the agency has raised the issue of the sustainability of the vital services provided by these organisations with me in the last year. They are a part of the essential infrastructure of services and supports we have in place for children and their families. At my most recent quarterly meeting with the board of Tusla, the chairman and I spoke about our intention to pursue additional resources for the sector as part of the Estimates process in 2022. I assure the Senator, therefore, that I am committed to working with my colleagues in Government, and especially the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform, Deputy Michael McGrath, Tusla and other service delivery partners to address the sustainability of these services and ensure that we meet the needs of children, young people and their families across Ireland. I will be giving this issue my full consideration in the upcoming Estimates process.
I thank the Minister for his commitment to fighting the case on behalf of these workers with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform. I am conscious that departmental speak has always surrounded section 39 workers. I refer to their employment being the responsibility of the local voluntary organisations and, as such, no relationship existing between the State agency and the local organisations other than the provision of funding. However, the reality back in 2010 was that the State required these organisations to cut salaries by 4% by reducing the funding provided. It is all well documented. The State knows full well what the different grades and rates of pay are and funding is provided pro ratain that regard, on the basis of whole-time equivalents, etc.
Notwithstanding the lack of a direct contractual arrangement, therefore, it is important that there is a recognition that, in essence, the State is funding these individuals. It should not matter whether there is a section 39 or a section 56 service level agreement in place. These people are owed that money. If we are to stand for anything in this House and across the public service, it must be based on fairness. The situation as it is now in this regard is not fair, cannot be justified and must be addressed. In real terms, it must be addressed in this round of budgeting. Like the Minister, I will also take up this issue with the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that, in so far as it is possible, we right the wrong perpetrated in respect of these people.
I appreciate the Senator's concerns regarding the sustainability of community and voluntary sector organisations. They provide vital services to children, to families and to young people. I share Senator Dooley's concerns about the sustainability of those organisations and that is why this year I asked Tusla to examine what additional resources it could provide for these organisations on a once-off basis. As the Senator is probably aware, Tusla was able to provide an additional €7 million in funding last month for the section 56 organisations. A once-off 5% increase in funding was provided to these organisations, which amounted to €6.2 million. Additional funding, beyond that 5%, was given to certain organisations where there were particular sustainability issues. We were also able to provide an additional €4.7 million in the budget to the domestic, sexual and gender-based violence services around the country.
My firm commitment is to continue to strengthen the infrastructure in place to support the protection, welfare and well-being of children, families and the wider community. We will work closely with Tusla and colleagues in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to ensure that the agency and the services it funds receive adequate levels of funding in the year to come. I will also be meeting with Clarecare in the next two weeks about a separate issue, but I am sure that will give me the opportunity to perhaps discuss this issue and to recognise the wider work of that organisation, as the Senator stated.