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Fórsa advises on schools re-opening
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa has made a submission to advise the Department of Education and Skills on contingency planning arrangements for the 2020/21 school year.

Fórsa has made a submission to advise the Department of Education and Skills on contingency planning arrangements for the 2020/21 school year.


The submission was made on Wednesday (13th May) as the Taoiseach announced that “among the safest things” the State can do in the next few months is to reopen schools for children.


The union’s submission highlights the specific concerns of Fórsa members working across the education sector in higher education, Education and Training Boards and the schools sector.


It calls for strict adherence to the requirements set out in the ‘Return to Work Safely Protocol' published last weekend, and says “genuine consultation between management and staff will be key to the successful management of re-opening the education sector.”


Fórsa’s head of Education Andy Pike said the union’s primary concern relates to funding as the safety obligations will pose specific resource based challenges for schools and colleges of all sizes. “There are many requirements for premises to be altered and made safe to protect against the transmission of Covid-19, and these cannot be adequately funded from existing resources. Employers will need additional resources and budgets to enable them to re-open in safe manner,” he said.


Resource requirements identified in the submission include hand-washing facilities, appropriate screening of office and reception areas, and the specialised task of deep cleaning education premises. The union said employers should not attempt to redeploy staff for deep cleaning.


Fórsa also highlighted the need for stakeholder engagement on a range of issues including:

  • Health and safety guidance and risk assessment
  • Facilitating remote working options for staff with childcare responsibilities in the event that childcare facilities have not fully reopened
  • Clear hand hygiene protocols based on existing guidance as applicable to staff and students including, if necessary, infrastructural improvements for the availability of hot water
  • Advice of occupational health services
  • The provision of the occupational health and employee assistance service on an ‘all school’ basis, because school secretaries and caretakers working in independent schools do not normally have access to the employee assistance service that is made available to teachers and other public servants
  • The extent to which Covid-19 testing can be made available for staff and students prior to a return to the workplace should be assessed closer to the re-opening date.

The Fórsa submission calls for the establishment of consultation fora involving recognised unions to develop plans to deal with the threat of Covid-19. It states that measures such as mandatory temperature checks or the wearing of masks “should only be introduced on the basis of national public health advice and must be clearly communicated prior to implementation” and that “effective monitoring and evaluation of social distancing measures and other safety protocols will be important if workplaces are to operate safely.”


Andy said the work of SNAs and teachers needs to be carefully considered as normal practice would involve close physical proximity in many instances: “Specific guidance will be required on this and we’ve suggested that consultation should now commence on the work of SNAs, in order to develop national guidance on this matter in advance of the re-opening of the schools sector,” he said.


On annual leave, the union’s submission says normal leave arrangements in the higher education and ETB sectors should now be reviewed, with a greater number of days available for carry over as an exceptional measure.


Read the full submission HERE.


Solution to SNA delays urged
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa has urged the education department to allow special needs assistants (SNAs) to provide a service through their existing schools in order to get around delays in transferring staff to the HSE.

Fórsa has urged the education department to allow special needs assistants (SNAs) to provide a service through their existing schools in order to get around delays in transferring staff to the HSE. The implementation of an earlier arrangement, which would see SNAs reallocated to the HSE during the Covid-19 pandemic, has been held up by delays in Garda vetting.


But Fórsa this week wrote to the education department to say this problem could be circumvented if SNAs were assigned to support their allocated students through schools, under the direction of principals and special education needs (SEN) teachers. This would avoid the need for additional Garda vetting, as SNAs are already vetted to work in their own schools.


The union says guidelines are already in place to support the provision of special needs learning, and other supports, while schools are closed because of coronavirus restrictions.


In a letter to the department, the head of Fórsa’s education division, Andy Pike, said 11,000 SNAs were still waiting to start the HSE vetting process. “Service delivery through schools would be the only way to ensure that students and families receive the support they need before the school year ends,” he wrote.


Mr Pike said he also believed SNAs would volunteer to provide services during the summer break through the extension of standard provisions to provide supports in July.


“The opportunity exists to continue the provision of a service to SEN students through the summer months through the normal July provision, which could be provided for a longer period than in previous years. Fórsa would support such arrangements, and would actively encourage SNAs to volunteer for such a service,” he wrote.


Mr Pike said that, under Fórsa’s proposals, further dialogue would be needed to avoid potential confusion over the respective roles of schools and the HSE in the provision of services to SEN students.


“SNAs have co-operated fully with the reassignment process, but they have grown increasingly frustrated that they are not yet able to meet the needs of their students. We believe service delivery through schools is now the only way to ensure that SEN students receive the service they need,” he said.


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Also in this issue
Advice for SNAs
Limited re-opening of schools from 18th May

Fórsa has issued a series of documents and advice sheets for SNAs ahead of the limited re-opening of school buildings expected from next Monday (18th May).


In a message issued to SNAs last night, the union’s Education division advised that the Government’s road map states that schools are only re-opening to facilitate the organisation of remote learning: “Staff should continue to work remotely unless there is essential work associated with remote learning that requires attendance on school premises.”


The documents are as follows:

  1. Advice sheet on what to do on 18th May next - which contains information on what you can and cannot be asked to do.
  2. A letter to school principals. SNAs are advised that they can show this letter to their principal, but that Fórsa can arrange for this to be sent directly. Simply contact your branch or organiser: “As some members do not wish us to contact their principal directly we have not issued this letter to all schools but you can show this to your principal or ask us to send it to them.”
  3. An advice sheet on health and safety on return to work, which will be useful as we move towards full or partial school opening in September.
  4. An advice sheet on handling books and learning materials. This is primarily aimed at school secretaries but is relevant to any SNA asked to handle materials that come in from students. SNAs are advised to note that work on the book return/rental scheme is not part of the role of the SNA. However the advice covers all physical contact with books.

The Department of Education and Skills will be issuing guidance to schools today (Friday) which will stress the limited nature of the re-opening of buildings for remote working only with any other essential work being carried out when public health restrictions begin to ease further towards the end of the school year.


SNAs are advised to contact your branch representatives if you have any queries.


Adjusting to remote working
by Róisín McKane



Almost half of Ireland’s workers have had their employment circumstances changed by the Covid-19 pandemic, with more than a third now working from home, according to new Central Statistics Office (CSO) data.


And the Government’s recently published ‘roadmap for reopening society and business’ suggests that many of us will continue to work remotely for some time.


With this in mind, we sought advice from the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service (CSEAS) about how workers can keep healthy during this longer-than-expected period of remote working.



Our office routine is not going to be the same when working from home.  We have no commute, no physical water-cooler chats, and probably no morning trip to our usual coffee shop.


However, it’s important to think about the parts of our office routine that are beneficial, such as the fresh air we get on our commute, or the break from our desks when we go to the kitchen.


We should find ways to incorporate the healthy parts of our old routines into our new way of living, such as going for a walk in the morning, having a coffee in the garden, or stretching our legs and getting away from our desks for five minutes every so often.



We know that being active is good for our physical health, but our mental health can also see significant benefits.  People who engage in regular exercise generally experience an increased feeling of wellbeing, and getting the blood pumping can help to alleviate some of the symptoms of anxiety and depression. 


As we get older, keeping active can boost our health in areas such as osteoporosis, reducing blood pressure levels, protecting the heart and protecting against certain cancers.


CSEAS recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five times a week, for all adults. When working from home, it may be helpful to schedule some exercise time into the day.


It is important to remember that at this uncertain time, exercise can help us cope with stress and give us a welcome break from work, as we adjust to our new routine.



There is a tendency to ease up on good eating habits when we feel stressed, isolated, lonely or down. Research shows however, that good nutrition during challenging circumstances actually fortifies us.


CSEAS suggests following a proper diet, sleep and exercise regime, where possible when working from home. Incorporating fresh fruits and vegetables, and keeping on top of our water intake will help with our concentration and general health.


Learning to breathe

CSEAS suggests including other wellbeing habits such as mindfulness, meditation and breathing exercises into our routine. In particular, the employee assistance service recommends the ‘7-11 Breathing Exercise’, which involves breathing in through the nose for a count of seven (fill up your tummy with air) and breathing out through the mouth for a count of eleven.


Alternatively, why not take part in virtual mindfulness exercises or join online yoga classes, many of which are currently being offered for free due to the coronavirus outbreak.


Breathing techniques and mindfulness can be useful in decreasing anxiety but, like all new habits, can take a little getting used to. With practice however, they can be part of an overall calmness and wellbeing routine.


More information on the supports offered by the Civil Service Employee Assistance Service can be found here.


Covid-19: Advice to Fórsa members



Fórsa has updated its advice on coronavirus-related work issues for civil servants and staff in the wider public service. The advice covers attendance at work (including for pregnant workers and those with health vulnerabilities), salary protections for those self-isolating, temporary staff transfers, childcare and more.  Read it HERE.

Fórsa: Here to support you



Fórsa is here to protect you if you have problems arising from the coronavirus or other workplace issues. The best way to contact the union at this time is HERE.


We will deal with queries as quickly as we can but, needless to say, the union will prioritise cases where members’ jobs and incomes are at immediate risk – as well as any serious health and safety issues that may arise.


Fórsa has cancelled all face-to-face meetings for the time being. The union is redeploying its staff to prioritise engagement with management on proposals arising from the Covid-19 public health crisis, and to provide rapid and efficient responses to members’ queries and concerns.


Fórsa's main phone line (01 817 1500) is now open from 9am to 5pm Monday to Friday. Alternatively members can use the Contact Us page on the Fórsa website to submit queries directly to the relevant division within Fórsa and this remains the most efficient way to access advice directly.


Wherever possible, Fórsa staff have been equipped to work remotely. Therefore, members should not attend Fórsa offices at this time. If you have a query or concern, the best way to raise it is to contact the union HERE.

Call to include disabled in Covid response
by Hazel Gavigan



The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) has stressed the importance of including people with disabilities in the national response to Covid-19.


At a recent online meeting, ICTU’s disability committee called on all State agencies to adhere to their obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). 


This includes making information on testing and access to services available in accessible formats, and involving people with disabilities in decisions about their healthcare. ICTU also says the State should recognise any increased costs connected to their disability that arise during the pandemic.


Fórsa official Billy Hannigan said people with disabilities endured disproportionate austerity after previous economic shocks.


“Following the 2008 financial crisis, disability services were among the first to be cut. We are adamant that this cannot happen in the post-Covid-19 recovery period. That goes for the people who depend on disability services, and the people who deliver them,” he said.


With unemployment now at over 28%, it will be even harder for people with disabilities to get decent work.


“The way we work has changed in recent months, with facilities for remote working becoming far more widespread. This presents an opportunity to foster greater participation in the labour force for all,” he said.


Read the ICTU statement HERE.

#HiddenHero teams
by Niall Shanahan



Library safety measures demanded
by Mehak Dugal and Bernard Harbor



Fórsa yesterday (Thursday) sought commitments over the enforcement of social distancing and other Covid-19 safety measures when libraries begin to open from 8th June.


In a meeting with employer representatives, the union raised a range of safety concerns including the supervision of young library users, cleaning of premises and books, controlling the numbers entering libraries, queuing arrangements, signage, and protective screens.


Fόrsa said library management was also obliged to meet the health guidelines agreed between unions, employers and the Government at national level last week, in order to minimise the risk of exposing library staff and users to the coronavirus.


During yesterday’s meeting, the Local Government Management Agency, which represents council employers, recognised that library services required specific safety measures, and said it did not envisage a full return to library services in early June.


The union will now set out its concerns in writing after meetings with national representatives from its two library vocational groups next week.


Libraries are set to reopen “with numbers limited, social distancing observed, and strict hand hygiene on entry” next month, under phase two of the Government’s recently-published ‘roadmap for a return to work.’


Following the announcement, Fórsa called for the special meeting of the Local Authority National Council, an employer-union negotiating forum chaired by a senior Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) official.


Fórsa national secretary Peter Nolan said the union wanted to see library buildings reopened as soon as possible. But he said it must be done in a way that’s consistent with public health guidelines and health and safety legislation.


“Our members have concerns about enforcing social distancing, the supervision of young library users, the cleaning of premises and books, and controlling the numbers entering and exiting libraries,” he said.


The union is insisting that employers’ proposals to deal with these issues are set out well in advance of library re-opening.


Mr Nolan said libraries would also have to abide by the ‘return to work safety protocol,’ recently agreed between unions, employers and the Government. This aims to underpin workers’ safety as staff migrate back to workplaces, and says every work location must have an agreed employee representative for Covid-19 safety arrangements.


Local authority libraries have continued to provide electronic library services to the public throughout the pandemic, with some services providing selected deliveries to members of the public.


Read the Fórsa guidelines HERE.


Fórsa opens ‘join online’ feature
by Niall Shanahan

From today (Friday 15th May), workers who wish to join Fórsa will be able to do so using a new ‘join online’ function on the union’s website.

From today (Friday 15th May), workers who wish to join Fórsa will be able to do so using a new ‘join online’ function on the union’s website.


Going live with the new system follows several months of research, preparation and testing aimed at making it easier than ever to join the union. It also goes live as the union continues to process a large number of new membership applications, as interest in joining the union has surged since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis.


Fórsa’s general secretary Kevin Callinan commented: “The current crisis has created the necessity to be able to carry out our business in different ways. Work on this project had commenced before the Covid-19 crisis took hold, and its completion marks a vital step as we tackle the challenges of living in changed times.


“We can see that more people want to join a union in response to what’s happening in the wider economy. It’s vital that they can take those initial steps quickly and easily, and making the membership application process more accessible is part of that process.


“This is a crucial new venture to enable Fórsa to substantially increase our membership - and to strengthen the union’s hand - at a critical time in the union’s development,” he said.


The online facility is a streamlined and simplified membership application process, and will be the quickest and easiest way to join the union. All incoming applications will continue to be subject to check-off and approval by Fórsa branches and the national executive committee, while the new online system is designed to ease the administrative burden on branches.


From Friday 15th May you can join Fórsa online at


Union guidance on return to workplaces
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa has published new guidance for workers who have been working remotely, but may be returning to their workplaces over the coming weeks. 

Fórsa has published new guidance for workers who have been working remotely, but may be returning to their workplaces over the coming weeks.


The advice covers the workplace aspects of the Government’s ‘roadmap for reopening society and business,’ which was published earlier this month. And it outlines the State’s guidance on the essential measures that will be required to contain the virus as the economy begins to reopen.


Fórsa and other unions have also insisted that the safety of workers and the people they serve must be protected as staff migrate back to workplaces after working remotely.


This has resulted in an agreed ‘return to work safety protocol,’ which is also summarised in the new Fórsa guidance.


Agreed between unions, employers and the Government at the end of last week, the protocol underpins workers’ safety as staff migrate back to workplaces. It puts the Health and Safety Authority (HSA) at the centre of enforcement guarantees, and insists that employers recognise at least one Covid-19 worker safety representative – and more in larger employments.


In a letter to the union’s branches last week, Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan said it was vital that unions ensure that they are “central in the selection of the lead worker representatives for Covid-19 arrangements.”


Kevin said he had raised the need for consultation on the return to public service workplaces in the union-employer-Government forum that agreed the safety arrangements. It’s known as the Labour Employer Economic Forum, or LEEF.


Fórsa has also raised the need to consult on the safety of public service workplaces in a meeting with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER), which manages overall public service employment arrangements.


Fórsa officials are now entering detailed discussions on return-to-work arrangements, and the implementation of the safety protocol, in specific sectors and workplaces. The union will be issuing sectoral information to members as it emerges.


Read the Fórsa guidelines HERE.

Biennial report records union achievements
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa’s first biennial report was published this week. The report sets out the new union’s activities and achievements over the last two years.

Fórsa’s membership increased by over 4% in the two years following the amalgamation that created the new union. The combined membership of the three organisations that joined together in January 2018 was just over 76,800.


A year later it had increased to over 77,300 and, by the end of 2019, it had reached over 80,100. Women now make up over 75% of the membership.


The figures are set out in Fórsa’s first biennial report, which was published this week.


The report sets out the new union’s activities and achievements over the last two years in the areas of pay, working conditions, pensions, organisation, campaigns, communications and the work of Fórsa’s six divisions – civil service, education, health, local government, municipal employees and services and enterprises.


Writing in its foreword, Fórsa general secretary Kevin Callinan thanks members for their loyalty and contributions to the union’s work.


“Our collective membership is growing, our organising efforts are stronger and more focussed, our communications are reaching more and more members, our campaigning voice is louder, and our industrial relations outcomes are robust,” he writes.


The 106-page document also includes details of the union’s accounts and expenditure.


Read the biennial report HERE.

Over a million need income supports
by Mehak Dugal

Well over 1.2 million workers are now dependent on State income supports because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.

Well over 1.2 million workers are now dependent on State income supports because of the economic fallout of the coronavirus crisis.


More than 580,000 people are currently receiving the Covid-19 Pandemic Unemployment Payment (PUP), launched on 16th March. This is on top of the 205,000 people who were already getting Jobseekers Benefit payments.


And over 450,000 workers are having part of their wages subsidised through the Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme (TWSS).


The unemployment rate in Ireland is now at over 11%. It had fallen to 4.8%, below the EU average, just before the pandemic hit. 


The hospitality, food, entertainment, construction, wholesale and retail sectors are among those hardest hit by the unemployment accompanying the pandemic.


A new report published by the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection (DEASP) also shows that young, low-skilled, female and part-time workers are more likely to be among the group that have been laid off or lost their job as a result of Covid-19.


‘The initial impacts of the Covid-19 pandemic on Ireland's labour market’ finds that 43% of all PUP recipients are under 35, which highlights the precarious nature of jobs held by young people.


Both the pandemic unemployment and TWSS scheme were initially set up for 12 weeks, and are currently set to expire in mid-June. But with so many people still out of work, the Government will come under pressure to maintain income supports.


The British Government recently extended some temporary Covid-related income supports into the autumn.

ESRI critical of covid childcare effort
by Mehak Dugal

Providing adequate childcare for essential employees is critical to Ireland’s response to the coronavirus, according to a new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute.

Providing adequate childcare for essential employees is critical to Ireland’s response to the coronavirus, according to a new report from the Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI).


The study says over a fifth of the Irish workforce are essential workers, and that 100,000 of them have children under the age of 14. It criticises Government proposals to provide childcare to 5,000 health workers as inadequate.


Essential employees during the Covid-19 crisis says most essential workers are concentrated in low-paid sectors like retail and non-professional health grades, and says they can’t afford extra childcare costs.


Some 80% of essential workers also have a partner that works, 20% have a partner who is also an essential worker, and 9% are lone parents. Nearly 70% of essential workers are women.


Paul Redmond who co-authored the report, said the proposed weekly fee of €90 for state-supported childcare could be a struggle for the essential workers in lower-paid health jobs.


Fórsa, which represents over 30,000 health workers, has been seeking a solution to the issue of childcare provision for essential staff since schools and crèches were closed on 12th March.


The union favours direct childcare provision for essential staff, or a payment to meet the additional costs incurred by individuals who made their own childcare arrangements after schools and crèches closed.


The ESRI report, which was completed before the Government made its recent announcement, was also critical of the lack of direct provision.


“Unlike other countries, such as the UK, there has not yet been direct government provision for the childcare needs of essential employees in Ireland. Furthermore, given that many essential workers are concentrated in lower paid occupations, the capacity of many such employees to pay for additional childcare services is likely to be substantially constrained.


“Therefore, facilitating adequate childcare for these essential employees is critical to ensure that we can continue to respond to the crisis,” it says.


Read the report HERE.

Tackling food poverty during a pandemic
by Róisín McKane

A member of Fórsa’s Boards and Voluntary Agencies branch has led an initiative that’s providing weekly food parcels to 21 extra families during the Covid-19 crisis.

A member of Fórsa’s Boards and Voluntary Agencies branch has led an initiative that’s providing weekly food parcels to 21 extra families during the Covid-19 crisis.


Crosscare youth worker and union activist John O’Hara saw a marked increase in the demand for support since the onset of the virus, and sought donations from Fórsa branches to fund additional aid for families.


Along with Collinstown school completion programme, four Fórsa branches – Boards and Voluntary Agencies, Dublin Care Services, Dublin Hospitals and Youth Justice – chipped in, and Crosscare was in a position to do more as a result.


Now John hopes more Fórsa branches will lend a badly-needed hand.


“I felt we had to do something. There was a significant number of people who needed assistance, and we needed additional funding to allow us help. The union by its nature helps people, so it seemed appropriate,” said John. 


The coronavirus outbreak virus has negatively impacted nearly half of the employed population, with over 800,000 people are now dependant on State benefits for their income. Many households are struggling to meet basic needs.


“Crosscare provides assistance and food aid to families in need,” explained John, who supports young people through the Ronanstown youth service. “We saw a surge in families experiencing unemployment. There was a new demographic struggling to provide the basics,” he said.


John said many members of the team that coordinates the collection and delivery of food supports are Fórsa members. “We all bring something different to the table. Some may know the families personally. They know that this week they have sufficient dried food, but they’re running low on washing powder. That kind of insight is key,” he said. 


“When we’re delivering the parcels I try to let the families know that Fórsa has funded them. It’s an opportunity to educate people on the work of unions and the good they do in our communities.”


John commended the support received by Crosscare management at Ronanstown Youth Service.


“We’re trusted to make decisions and exercise our best judgement, so we can do our level best for the families in our community.”


Running on a shoestring, with every cent accounted for, John described their reliance on Crosscare’s foodbank.


“Our first port of call is always the foodbank. We need enough food to sustain the family, so we’ll stock up on non-perishables. If biscuits or chocolate are available we’ll include them too. It’s important that there is a little bit of luxury, even if it’s something as small as a few packets of biscuits,” he said.


The parcels are then topped up with additional supplies, like perishable goods or food vouchers bought with donations. Working in Crosscare’s youth services, John explained the importance of helping children.


“There are cases of extreme neglect. Children living in completely dysfunctional households and immeasurable poverty, compounded by drug or alcohol addiction. We know the parcels will provide enough to sustain the children for the week. And it gives us an opportunity to see how the children are coping, and keep an eye on their mental health,” he says.


John described the tremendous effect the food assistance has. “We recently visited a woman who had fallen on hard times. She was so overwhelmed by the generosity, she broke down in tears. You can’t put into words the effect that had on her. Something as small as a €20 voucher made such a dramatic difference to that woman and her family.”


John acknowledged the generosity of the Fórsa branches whose donations have helped many families in need. “People simply couldn’t manage without this assistance,” he said.


You can get more information Crosscare’s work HERE.


If your branch is interested in making a donation to the programme contact Roisin McKane HERE.