SIPTU demonstrates in Brussels. JW Gaudnann general secretary of The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) is speaking
SIPTU demonstrates in Brussels. JW Gaudnann general secretary of The European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU) is speaking

SIPTU is demanding that the Irish government immediately lift the recruitment embargo in the health service and phase out excessive payments to private ‘for profit’ recruitment agencies.

SIPTU (Services Industrial Professional and Technical Union) Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell, said on Monday: ‘Payments to private “for profit” recruitment agencies amounted to 111 million euros in the first four months of 2016.

‘That is approximately half of the entire Health Service Executive (HSE) budget allocation for that period.

‘The days of putting hundreds of millions of taxpayers’ euros into the pockets of private companies must come to an end.

‘The savings the HSE could make on the commission paid to “for profit” recruitment agencies would alone allow for the recruitment of many workers into secure full-time and pensionable jobs.

‘Having staff employed directly not only makes economic sense but also results in a better service as it allows for greater continuity in patient care.’

He added: ‘SIPTU is calling on the HSE to identify each post filled by an agency worker and, where appropriate, open a recruitment competition to fill the position on a direct contract basis.

‘The staffing of the health service should be underpinned by the best standards in recruitment, care for patients, value for money for taxpayers and decent jobs with living wages for all health workers.’

The HSE is responsible for the provision of health and personal social services for everyone living in Ireland, with public funds.

The HSE is Ireland’s largest employer with over 67,000 direct employees, and another 40,000 in funded health care organisations and has an annual budget of over 13 billion euros.

SIPTU has called for major reform of the Nursing and Midwifery Board of Ireland (NMBI) following publication of two highly critical independent reports examining its operation.

SIPTU Nursing Sector Organiser, Kevin Figgis, said: ‘The findings of these reports, conducted by independent consultants, are deeply concerning.

‘They are a vindication of the concerns expressed by nurses and midwives who believed that financial and governance procedures within the NMBI, the state regulatory body for their professions, was either not in place or, where is was, it was flawed.

‘Our members’ worst fears have been realised, with confirmation of major deficits in governance and expenditure protocols at the NMBI.

‘In fact, the degree of unaccountability for expenditure of our members’ fees is staggering.’

He added: ‘It is clear that nurses and midwives were right to oppose the attempt to impose a 50% increase in the NMBI retention fee for 2015.

‘The reports reveal excessive expenditure on external advisors and a lack of transparency on procurement processes within the NMBI.

‘This demonstrates clearly that its structures were not working in the interest of nurses, midwives or indeed the public.’

SIPTU’s Health Division Organiser Paul Bell said: ‘Our members had demanded publication by the NMBI of its annual account of expenditure so they could see what, if anything, the organisation was doing to protect and enhance the nursing and midwifery professions.

‘It is now clear that the NMBI was not only dysfunctional but also detached from the interests of its members and the public as the regulator for the nursing and midwife professions.

‘SIPTU is demanding the establishment of proper governance and oversight of the operation of the NMBI.

‘Integral to this must be the adoption of a transparent communication protocol which allows for our members and other stakeholders to be provided with up-to-date accurate information about its work and finances.’

He added: ‘The NMBI also has a duty to enter into a dialogue with our members and other key stakeholders with the aim of rebuilding confidence in it.

‘Confidence in its operation is essential for a regulatory body if it is to fulfil its functions and achieve its objectives.’

Meanwhile, parents looking forward to a second year of free childcare provision from September may have to pay because the Department of Children and Youth Affairs has failed to agree contracts with childcare providers, according to IMPACT (Irish Municipal, Public and Civil Trade Union).

The union says thousands of childcare staff, supported by the State-funded Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) scheme, were laid off last week with no guarantee of re-employment, because the government scheme restricts funding to 38 weeks of the year.

A demonstration, organised by the Association of Childhood Professionals (ACP) and IMPACT, took place in Cork city last Saturday.

The two organisations, which work jointly on behalf of early years’ professionals, said the event highlights the importance of early childhood education and care, as well as the vital role played by early childhood professionals in supporting children and families.

IMPACT deputy general secretary Kevin Callinan said the government’s inept handling of the scheme means experienced staff are being laid off, while childcare providers’ ability to meet demand for free childcare under ECCE is being compromised.

Callinan said: ‘Many parents are working under the false premise that there will be a place for their child come September.

‘The reality is that, as things stand, no contracts are in place and there is certainly no guarantee that this will be sorted by the time parents seek to take up their entitlements in just over two months’ time.

‘In the meantime, thousands of skilled and experienced early years’ professionals are being forced out of work for the summer because the government only funds early years’ services for 38 weeks.

‘That’s no use to parents, who need care for their children 52 weeks of the year.

‘And it is totally unacceptable to the dedicated staff who will either have no income or depend on social welfare this summer.’

Marian Quinn of the Association of Childhood Professionals said: ‘Approximately 4,000 early childhood professionals will have to sign on this summer because they will be laid off or on reduced hours.

‘Others will have no income at all because they are self-employed.

‘We need our government to commit to increased investment and a cohesive early childhood education and care strategy, so that the children of Ireland can receive the best possible foundation in life.

‘There is a long history of underinvestment in the early childhood sector, which shows a complete disregard for the rights of the child and the professionals working with them.’

l Staff at Dublin’s Central Remedial Clinic (CRC) are being balloted for industrial action in an escalation of a row over the closure of their contributory pension scheme.

IMPACT, which has been in talks with CRC management since it collapsed the scheme last month, says industrial action looks inevitable unless agreement can be reached on the re-establishment of pension provision equivalent to that in the collapsed scheme.

The CRC board and management unilaterally stopped making payments into the fund last month.

Management subsequently issued notice of termination of the contributory pension scheme, which covers almost 150 current and former staff who have over 1,000 years of service between them.

Staff who are members of the scheme have all been paying into it for a minimum of 15 years. They currently contribute 10% of their gross pay to the fund.

IMPACT says it wants to make its own actuarial assessment of the fund and test the legal validity of the scheme closure. But management has refused it access to the books. The agency claims the fund is carrying a 2.5 million euro deficit – less than 7% of its liabilities. But IMPACT believes the scheme is not in deficit to this extent.

Management moved to close the scheme last month and subsequently called staff together to tell them their pensions were gone. This was done without consultation or negotiation with staff representatives, the Pension Board or the HSE, which funds CRC.

IMPACT official Ian McDonnell says the union is willing to negotiate measures to close any deficit that exists. ‘However, we are not going to accept that management can simply cancel the hard-saved pension provision that its staff have built up without bothering to look for ways of salvaging the scheme.

‘Management’s disproportionate handling of a manageable deficit, and its thoroughly insensitive treatment of staff, are totally inept,’ he said.

The union says similar or worse deficits in other schemes have been resolved though engagement with staff representatives.

McDonnell said IMPACT was open to discuss measures to correct any deficit and secure a defined benefit pension scheme that protects the investment staff have made in their future.

The Central Remedial Clinic is a national organisation for children and adults with primary physical disabilities.

Its pension fund has 44 active members (members currently employed by CRC and contributing to the fund), about 50 deferred members (former CRC staff who expect to receive some pension benefits when they retire), and about 50 retired members (who currently receive pensions from the scheme).

The ballot will close at noon on Friday 8th July.