Fórsa can now engage in a process to deal with pay restoration in ‘section 39’ agencies after other organisations in the sector finally agreed to sign up. The progress followed talks at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) this week.
Last week, Fórsa signalled its intention to engage with a HSE review of pay policy in the agencies, which are funded by the public health service, but which operate independently of the HSE. Now that others have followed suit, the process – which was first mooted by the Department of Health – will get underway.
Fórsa lifted its threat of industrial action in the sector last week, pending the outcome of the review, which the health department said would be concluded as a matter of urgency after an evidence-gathering exercise to establish the facts about which agencies had cut pay during the crisis and which had since begun to restore incomes.
The HSE review, which will cover publicly-funded organisations that have “sizable staffing,” will also consider the financial implications of adjusting pay in each organisation, taking account of all sources of funding. The final report will be assessed by the department, and the WRC will assist with implementation.
Previously, Fórsa’s Health and Welfare division had sanctioned industrial action, and had moved to identify agencies that have failed to restore recession-era pay cuts despite having relatively robust funding streams.
Éamonn Donnelly, head of Fórsa’s Health & Welfare division, said the commitment to propose appropriate plans for phased resolution was crucial to resolving the dispute. “We began our ‘Caring At What Cost?’
campaign to restore pay in section 39 agencies more than two years ago. We have argued that these workers cannot be left behind when workers in both the public and private sectors are seeing a consistent pattern of pay improvement,” he said.
Mr Donnelly added that the role of the WRC in the dispute has already been significant, not least in helping others understand the implications of industrial action in the more vulnerable section 39 agencies. “A number of employers in the sector have refused to participate in the WRC. We have argued that willingness to participate in the WRC should be a condition of public funding for section 39s,” he said.
Fórsa’s divisional executive has acknowledged that pay restoration across section 39 agencies is more complex than in the mainstream public service, because voluntary and community organisations have different funding arrangements. Essentially, some agencies are better able to fund pay restoration than others.
But the union says a significant number of agencies have failed to act, even though they have the money to do so.
Fórsa official Catherine Keogh was among the union representatives who gave evidence on the issue to the Oireachtas health committee last week.