SIPTU members and officials took part in a protest rally outside the Dáil on Tuesday organised by the Irish Senior Citizens Parliament and other organisations representing older people over cuts affecting the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable in Budget 2014.
Speaking ahead of the protest, SIPTU National Retired Staff Council chairman, Frank Gannon, said: ‘Budget 2014 delivered a substantial hit to older people in particular.
‘Pensioners, those with a disability, carers, the sick and those living alone, will face increased hardship when the cuts in Budget 2014 are implemented.
‘The ending of the telephone allowance, for example, could have very serious consequences for those living alone in rural areas; the loss of the death grant could drive vulnerable people into the hands of money lenders; increased prescription charges could see those with multiple illnesses having to make choices about what drugs to take and the lowering of the income threshold for medical cards means an estimated 35,000 people will lose their cards.
‘Even if they qualify for free GP visit cards they will be forced to pay up to 144 euros per month for drugs compared with 25 euros maximum for those with a medical card.
‘The capping of tax relief on medical insurance schemes will most likely see people giving up private health insurance altogether, putting an even greater strain on the public health system in the future.
‘Older people have been accused by media commentators of not having been hit by the austerity measures introduced by the current government.
‘The fact is they have been hit by cuts that include those to Home Help care packages, respite care grants, the fuel support scheme, rising drug costs and soaring energy bills.’
Meanwhile, SIPTU held information meetings for HSE Home Helps based in Donegal on Tuesday afternoon and will hold another at 8pm next Tuesday 29th October in the Mount Errigal hotel, Letterkenny.
The meetings were called to discuss the recent Labour Court recommendation concerning Home Helps’ contracts of employment which establishes a new minimum threshold of working hours and curtails the outsourcing of the service.
The ruling followed an intensive campaign of protest, lobbying and campaigning by SIPTU Home Help activists.
There are over 500 HSE Home Help workers based in Donegal.
SIPTU Industrial Official, Declan Ferry, said: ‘Our members and supporters held meetings with local TD’s, Senators and councillors in Donegal.
‘They also organised well attended protests last year to highlight cuts to the service and have kept the pressure up ever since.’
Home Help and local SIPTU Shop Steward Kathleen McGlynn from Finn Valley said: ‘This Labour Court recommendation will have implications for all Home Help workers.
‘We will have new contracts, better security of hours, and the possibility of a better future for the service.’
SIPTU Organiser, Declan Ferry added: ‘This Labour Court recommendation finally puts Home Help workers on an equal footing with all other HSE employees.
‘Now we need to ensure delivery of the gains achieved.’
l Lecturers, researchers and administrative staff at Dublin City University (DCU) have launched a charter to reclaim Irish universities from excessive commercialisation and corporate influence.
The ‘Defend the Irish University’ charter which is initiated by the SIPTU Section Committee at DCU, with support from staff in other colleges and from the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT), sets out ten principles which can be endorsed in an online petition at http://t9.ie/diu.
‘It is imperative that we all join in the debate about our University sector,’ said SIPTU Organiser, Louise O’Reilly.
‘The charter has been proposed in the context of an intense transformation of higher education in Ireland and globally, with private interests dictating the shape of university courses in pursuit of a narrow market agenda.
‘At the same time, public investment in universities has slumped, even as student numbers swell on an unprecedented scale,’ she said.
‘Defending our universities is essential for those who work in them in every capacity because the provision of education is a public good and is not, and should not, be regarded as a saleable commodity’, said Prof. Ronald Munck, one of the authors of the charter.
‘We are at a point in the Irish universities where we either accept the steady decline of funding and morale or stand up for an alternative vision of what a university can be.
‘It is time we have a proper debate on the purpose of our universities before current moves to dumb them down succeed,’ Prof. Munck said.
l Mandate Trade Union members in Wallis retail outlets in Dublin and Limerick have been granted ‘All-Out Picket’ status by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
Last Friday, Congress informed all affiliated trade unions in Ireland of the decision and is asking all trade union members to observe the picket and support the Wallis workers.
Mandate’s Assistant General Secretary Gerry Light said: ‘The workers on the picket line are delighted with the call from Congress.
‘They’ve received a lot of support and solidarity from members of the public but now all trade unions across the country will be asking their hundreds of thousands of members not to shop in the stores while the dispute continues.’
The Wallis workers in the Childers Road store in Limerick had been on strike for 26 days by last Friday and the Grafton Street workers in Dublin had been on strike for three days after the company reneged on an agreed redundancy package.
Wallis Stores are owned by the multinational Arcadia Group along with Miss Selfridge, Dorothy Perkins, Evans, Burtons, Top Shop and Top Man outlets.
The company paid 92 million euros to the UK owners last year yet they have now cut their Irish workers’ redundancy entitlements by 45 per cent.
The company has also refused to attend the Labour Relations Commission (LRC), the Irish state’s mechanism for resolving industrial disputes.
However, on the day Congress issued all-out picket status, Wallis management contacted Mandate seeking a meeting between the two parties.
Light said: ‘We’re cautiously welcoming the contact from management and are prepared to meet them in one last genuine effort to resolve the issues in dispute however we’re obviously aware that this may not provide a satisfactory resolution for the workers.
‘Clearly the potential to resolve this dispute lies largely with management. Therefore we will proceed as planned with all pickets until such time as the company affords these loyal workers their agreed and just entitlements.’
He continued: ‘As the Wallis store on Grafton Street is due to close on Saturday, our members will be moving their picket to the Jervis Street store in an effort to resolve this unnecessary dispute.’
Mandate also say a picket will be placed on the Wallis store in Blanchardstown this week should the dispute not be resolved in the meantime and there is a possibility the dispute could escalate even further.
Light added: ‘Obviously nobody wants to take industrial action, particularly in the current economic environment.
‘However, these workers are not prepared to let this very wealthy company walk all over them and clearly they’re prepared to stand up for what’s right and fair.’