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Fórsa advises on SNA reallocations
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa’s Education Division yesterday (Wednesday) issued new advice to special needs assistants (SNAs) who are to be temporarily reassigned on foot of the closure of schools.

Fórsa’s Education Division yesterday (Wednesday) issued new advice to special needs assistants (SNAs) who are to be temporarily reassigned on foot of the closure of schools.


The union has called for SNAs to be deployed to support the students they normally work with, to ensure they have essential supports at a time of extreme stress. It says SNAs should give full cooperation to reassignments to:

  • Provide enhanced supports to the children who are familiar with them, on a remote basis, to help them navigate an unfamiliar and difficult period of relative isolation and absence of familiar school supports and routine, and to provide continued educational supports to them throughout this period, and
  • Provide new and additional supports to the parents, guardians and families of children with special educational needs, many of them working parents, who have been coping with school closures since 13th March.

Fórsa, which represents over 9,000 SNAs, says it fears the education department’s approach to the deployment of SNAs during the crisis risks exacerbating the educational disadvantage experienced by children with special educational needs.


The union believes it would be damaging to children with special needs if SNAs were to be allocated to other roles in the absence of adequate supports for their students.


The union also says confusion and poor communication from the education department and the HSE over Garda vetting reallocations has spread concerns that SNAs may be assigned to work with vulnerable elderly people in roles that the vast majority of SNAs are not qualified for.


In an email to SNAs yesterday, the union said: “Fórsa is particularly disappointed that the Minister for Education and Skills has persisted in making statements that imply SNAs will be allocated to nursing and medical roles, for which they are unqualified, in spite of his department’s assurances to the contrary.


“The union, therefore, calls for an unequivocal assurance that elderly people, other HSE patients and clients, and SNAs themselves will not be put at risk in this way.”


Fórsa has told SNAs not to undertake work other than the remote support role with students with special educational needs.


“This is necessary due to the lack of clarity on what other duties may be required outside of the home, and also due to the need to ensure that SNAs can only be asked to work safely. The union cannot accept that any SNA should be compulsorily reassigned as a healthcare assistant – a role for which, in the vast majority of cases, they are not qualified,” it says.


The union has also advised SNAs to continue, at all times, to follow the general HSE and Government advice on measures to contain the coronavirus, and to fill in the Garda vetting form that has been distributed in the context of temporary reassignments.


It is expected that further engagements with the department will take place next week.

Assurances sought for staff at higher risk
by Bernard Harbor

Fórsa this week published new guidance for health staff and other workers who are working in, or could be asked to work in, environments where there is a higher-than-average risk of contracting the coronavirus.

Fórsa this week published new guidance for health staff and other workers who are working in, or could be asked to work in, environments where there is a higher-than-average risk of contracting the coronavirus.


The union, which represents workers across the civil, public, private, voluntary and semi-state sectors, is committed to co-operating with emergency measures to contain the virus, protect citizens and workers, and maintain essential services during the unprecedented public health emergency.


And its general secretary Kevin Callinan said that Fórsa members had shown a determination to co-operate with efforts to beat the virus and protect and care for citizens.


“All of us are hugely grateful to the large number of workers in various sectors whose jobs mean they are – or could be – in contact with people who have the virus. We appreciate that this puts them at higher risk than most, and we value and admire the exceptional contribution they’re making in this crisis.


“Now we want management in the HSE and elsewhere to underline their safety commitments to staff who must work in environments of heightened risk with regard to Covid-19,” he said.


The union has sought the following commitments:


  1. Volunteers should be sought for higher-risk tasks and work areas wherever possible
  2. For the protection of patients, clients, the public and workers themselves, staff must have the training and qualifications required to undertake their allocated tasks and functions safely and effectively
  3. Adequate personal protective equipment (PPE), and training in the use and disposal of PPE, should be provided, along with any other necessary supports (eg, mental health support) that can reasonably be expected
  4. The individual family circumstances of staff should be taken into account when people are being allocated to higher-risk tasks and functions. In particular, those living with – or whose caring responsibilities demand contact with – elderly and other high-risk groups should not be obliged to work in high-risk areas except in very exceptional circumstances, and
  5. Wherever possible, such workers should also receive other practical supports from their employer, including childcare supports
  6. There will be equity in the application of these criteria.


Kevin said the union’s new advice was not a criticism of public service managers. But he said fresh, clear and public reassurance would bolster staff commitment and morale as the country enters the next phase of the corona crisis.


“From the outset, Fórsa has advised its members to co-operate with all necessary measures, including some that might not be acceptable in normal times. Sometimes this will mean doing different things, in different ways, at different times – including being temporarily reassigned to different tasks and organisations,” he said.


Fórsa officials will be raising the union’s new stance with employers across the civil and public service.


Read Fórsa’s new advice HERE.

Covid-19: Advice to Fórsa members

Fórsa has updated its advice on coronavirus-related work issues for education workers 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.

Flexitime temporarily suspended
by Bernard Harbor

Flexitime arrangements are to be temporarily suspended across the civil and public service as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis.

Flexitime arrangements are to be temporarily suspended across the civil and public service as part of its response to the coronavirus crisis. But balances already accrued by staff will remain in place and can be used once normal working arrangements are back in place.


In fact, flexitime has already either formally or effectively been suspended in the majority of public service employments where it was in place. These include the HSE, major civil service departments including social protection, and a number of local authorities.


The change, which is outlined in revised Department of Public Expenditure and Reform (DPER) guidance to employers published today (9th April), acknowledges the radical new ways of working that have been increased across the public service.


It says: “Many areas of the public service are under extreme pressure, and in order to keep delivering essential services to all our citizens we need flexibility and adaptability. The operation of traditional flexi-time and attendance management rules do not support the flexible arrangements and agility required during this extraordinary situation.”


DPER says that “it is crucial that we show solidarity as a unified one public service” at a time when Covid-19 has had an “unprecedented impact’ on normal working arrangements.



Bringing culture to you at home
by Róisín McKane

Cultural institutions across the country were forced to shut their doors on 12th March, in one of the earliest restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic. Since then, Fórsa members and others in galleries and museums have been adapting to the new landscape, developing new ways to bring the arts to you.

Cultural institutions across the country were forced to shut their doors on 12th March, in one of the earliest restrictions linked to the Covid-19 pandemic.


Since then, Fórsa members and others in galleries and museums have been adapting to the new cultural landscape, and developing new ways to bring the arts to you in your home. Here’s a look at what’s on offer.


Chester Beatty Library: Since closing its doors, the Chester Beatty has developed and expanded its online offering. You can now take a virtual tour in 3D, visit its digital collections or explore learning resources for parents and teachers. It’s all on the website or you can also access this array of delights through the museum’s new mobile app


Cork City Gaol: Once home to 19th century prisoners, this heritage site is now in lock-down. But you can wander back in time and explore the wings of the gaol through this online tour.


Galway City Museum: The Galway City Museum has shut up shop. But its public talks are now available as podcasts. Listen to them HERE


Hugh Lane Gallery: The Dublin City Gallery is home to an exceptional collection of modern art. Under the governance of Dublin City Council, the museum has expanded its collection considerably. Since its temporary closure in March the gallery has invested in its digital services. Bringing you the #museumfromhome series, the gallery now provides online talks, delving into the works of art. For more information on the gallery’s online offerings click HERE.


Limerick Museum: The oldest local authority museum in the State boasts one of the country’s largest collections. Now, part of its collection is available online. See more HERE.


National Gallery of Ireland: The National Gallery is helping you stay culturally connected with its wide range of online offerings. Currently providing free virtual tours, the gallery has also produced a podcast series designed to support in-depth engagement with exhibitions. In light of the current global crisis, and the anxiety that can bring, the gallery has also migrated their mindfulness workshop online. You can learn more HERE.


National Library: The tomes may be collecting dust, but a range of online services is being maintained, with access to manuscripts, genealogy and digital catalogues still available. Shhh!


National Museum of Ireland: The National Museum is currently working to develop and increase their online content for students, parents and teachers. From archaeology to national history, there’s a range of resources available HERE.


The Model Gallery: One of Ireland’s most notable public art collections, The Model in Sligo is home to one of the largest public holdings of work by Jack Butler Yeats. Although its doors remain closed, the gallery has implemented an alternative online programme, where people of all ages can learn more about art and artists from their homes. See more HERE


Wexford Opera House: A virtual visit to the opera is just a click away. Specialising in rarely-heard works, the Wexford Opera House has made productions from 2018 and 2019 available to watch on their YouTube channel.


Feel left out? Let us know if we’ve missed online cultural offerings from your workplace.








Feature Article
Support when you need it most

Fórsa’s range of support helplines remains in action during the Covid-19 crisis.


Our free 24-7 phone lines provide confidential counselling (1850-776655) and legal advice (1850-77-66-44), including free legal help in bodily injury cases. And you can contact the union directly HERE if you have a work-related problem.

Also in this issue
Minister must show respect - SNAs
by Niall Shanahan

A special needs assistant (SNA) member of Fórsa took to the airwaves to describe the stress and concern experienced by SNAs over the past week, following the publication of the circular on the temporary reassignment of SNAs.


Speaking on Tuesday (7th April) on Cork 96fm’s The Opinion Line, Carol McSherry, a member of Fórsa’s North Dublin North Leinster SNA branch, told presenter PJ Coogan that the biggest problem for SNAs has been the lack of communication from the Department of Education and Skills (DES) and from the minister, Joe McHugh.


“There are 16,000 of us, what we want is to be shown a little bit of respect. When there’s a lack of information it causes speculation, and this is what has caused all the upset since last week,” she said.


Carol outlined the sequence of events last week: “All we got last week was the circular, which was sent to our school principals, and then we had to fill in a skill-set survey. The Minister went on the TV and radio after the circular issued to say we’d be working in healthcare facilities an hour after the circular was issued.


“This is how all SNAs found out, and school principals had no back up information. The survey triggered a Garda vetting form, a generic form, which claimed we were healthcare assistants. The minister put a video up on Twitter congratulating us for signing up, but we didn’t have a choice,” she said.


“Thankfully the union stepped in to clarify that we will mainly be doing remote work, and if we’re not doing remote work to contact the union. At least we have that reassurance. I’ve been talking to SNAs since last Wednesday who are really scared. We’ve enough going on, we don’t need this,” she said.


Carol said SNAs want to help with the national response to Covid-19 and were already answering what she described as “Ireland’s call.” Presenter PJ Coogan said the programme had learned the original plan was to place SNAs into care homes but that the union’s head of education Andy Pike had “put his foot down and said that’s not happening.”


Carol added: “We want to help, we’re aware that the hospitals are full of hard working people. SNAs have never not stepped up to the mark, but we’re not being communicated with. Most of us are already contacting the children we work with, we really care about them, we really miss them,” she said.


Carol emphasised that SNAs wanted to help but within the capacity of what they are trained for, and described the challenges facing parents of children with special education needs, who are missing the regular routine of the school day and the stimulation of the classroom environment. She added that children would respond well to the opportunity to work remotely with their SNAs. “There is potential there to do good,” she said.


Carol, who is an active member of Fórsa, said she was keeping up to date with developments by reading the regular bulletins and memos from the union.


Presenter Coogan added: “SNAs do very special work, work that’s worth diamonds.”


Listen back HERE (from 11mins 30secs)


See also:

Fórsa members fighting Covid-19
by Niall Shanahan

Fórsa has launched a social media campaign to highlight the work of members who are part of the public service-wide effort to tackle Covid-19.


Hidden Heroes focuses on individual members, their grade and current programme of work, illustrating the wide variety of skills and duties necessary to address the current health crisis.


On Tuesday (7th April), Fórsa posted the first in the Hidden Heroes series of social media posts, looking at the work of clinical biochemist Neda Sharifi , and Leo Whelan in hospital stores in Carlow/Kilkenny  featured yesterday (Wednesday).


Today we featured the work of Sandra Harkin in accounts payable. The union will publish a new story each day.


Fórsa lead organiser Kevin Donoghue, who is conducting a series of short interviews with members for the campaign, explained: “We wanted to celebrate the diverse community of Fórsa members mobilising to fight the virus. Fórsa is unique in that we represent people in so many different grades and sectors involved in the Covid-19 response.


“There is a tendency to think only of doctors, nurses and other medical staff, those we describe as ‘frontline’ workers in this context. They’re doing incredible work and it’s great to see their message - that all of us have individual responsibilities to stop the spread of Covid-19 – getting such a positive response nationwide.


“Our campaign is designed to complement that effort and that message. To show that those frontline workers aren’t alone, that there is a huge community of workers performing vital tasks, working in different ways and in different contexts to how they would usually work, and that each one of them is helping to make a difference,” he said.


Kevin is continuing to talk to members in local government, civil service, education, health and other sectors about their current programme of work in response to Covid-19. If you would like to take part in the campaign, please get in touch via the links below.


Get involved – tell us your story


Tell us about your Covid-19 work for the Hidden Heroes campaign. Have you been reassigned? Are you working remotely? Please get in touch.


Contact Kevin Donoghue HERE  or Niall Shanahan HERE with your contact details.

Updating your contact details

Fórsa is keen to ensure that all our members contact details are up to date.


By maintaining your current contact details we can ensure that up-to-the-minute, important information can be delivered directly to each and every member of the union.


This is especially important during the current national Covid-19 crisis. In the past few days we’ve been able to issue a series of special bulletins to members, keeping them in touch with the latest advice and guidelines from the HSE and employers.


However, if any member isn’t receiving this information, it means we don’t have a current email address for them on our system. This could be because they’ve moved departments or changed grades or employment etc.


If this sounds like the experience of one of your colleagues, please share this information with them and let them know we’re encouraging members to update their contact details with us in order to improve our communications service to members.


The union is also experiencing a high volume of members getting in touch with the communications unit directly to change their contact details as a result of new eircom policy taking effect later this month. Those members wishing to change the email address Fórsa contacts them on should also follow the directions outlined below.


It's also worth noting your home email address helps to ensure direct, safe and more effective communications with you than a workplace email address.


To update contact details, visit our website HERE and follow the directions to quickly update them.

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.