Fórsa and other health unions have asked Micheál Martin to help resolve the row over recognition for health workers’ efforts and commitment during the Covid-19 pandemic. In a letter sent last Friday (13th August), they called on the Taoiseach to “intervene immediately to authorise the HSE and relevant Government departments to engage with health service unions to agree and implement the promised recognition without any further delay.”
The move reflects growing frustration among health workers, which was compounded by the HSE’s failure to put forward any proposals at a recent Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) hearing. Instead, the HSE said it was awaiting Government authorisation to engage with the unions.
Tony Fitzpatrick, who chairs the ‘Staff Panel’ of health service unions, said engagements with the HSE since last November had resulted in no progress despite public statements from An Taoiseach, health minister Stephen Donnelly and other senior Government figures, in which they supported proposals to recognise health workers’ extraordinary contribution during the pandemic.
Mr Fitzpatrick wrote: “While health workers appreciate the many supportive statements from you and other Government representatives, they have yet to see any tangible progress towards recognition for their efforts and, in many cases, sacrifice.
“Thousands of dedicated health care workers have had their reasonable expectations raised by the welcome public statements of support by you and other politicians. But they are incredulous at reports that no recognition was offered at the August WRC meeting, and at the news that their unions must now argue their case – seemingly uncontested by the most senior members of Government and health service management – before the Labour Court.”
Mr Fitzpatrick said the impasse was “deeply damaging to the morale of all health care workers who, without exception, have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and willingness to respond to national and public need, as well as Government demands in response to the pandemic.”
The unions have referred the dispute to the Labour Court, but say this should not be necessary as there is broad public and political consensus on the issue. “It can only be described as an extraordinary situation,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
The unions say the Government’s failure to act has put the Republic out of step with Northern Ireland, the UK, and most EU countries, where health workers have already seen recognition of their extraordinary efforts and contribution.
They also point to research that shows staff who work directly with Covid-19 patients are 47 times more likely to catch the virus than those impacted through community-acquired infection. “Over 30,000 health care workers have been infected with Covid-19 since the pandemic struck in Ireland, and more than 600 have been infected in the most recent 14-day epidemiological report,” said Mr Fitzpatrick.
The national staff panel of health care workers unions represents members of the INMO, SIPTU, Fórsa, IMO, MLSA, UNITE, CONNECT, and the craft group of unions.