CE Workers Rally -“Unfinished business: Don’t ignore community services.”

17 Feb 2020

Dublin Rally

Health workers in the community and voluntary sector joined community employment (CE) supervisors on Valentine’s day in a rally calling on the next government to address outstanding issues of pay and pensions in their respective sectors.

Hundreds of community employment schemes around the country were shut down as CE supervisors staged a one-day strike. More than 1,200 community employment scheme supervisors have been overseeing 900 State-funded services ranging from childcare to meals on wheels for almost 30 years.

The rally was organised under the auspices of the Irish Congress of Trade Union's (ICTU) Community Sector Committee behind a message for the new government: “Unfinished business: Don’t ignore community services.”

Community Employment (CE) supervisors took part in a 24-hour work stoppage in a continuing dispute over the Government’s failure to implement a 2008 Labour Court recommendation to give CE supervisors access to an occupational pension scheme. 

Workers in ‘Section 39’ agencies, under which community and voluntary sector organisations are funded to deliver care and other services by the HSE, also took industrial action in their campaign for pay justice in independent organisations that rely on State funding to deliver vital health and care services.

SIPTU official Eddie Mullins said the outgoing Fine Gael administration invited the two unions which represent CE Scheme supervisors, SIPTU and Fórsa, into a talks process last year following strike action by the supervisors in February 2019: “Nobody in government managed to present any proposals to resolve this long-running dispute. This is despite union efforts to present constructive solutions to a problem that has been allowed to fester for far too long, and despite a commitment included in the 2015 Lansdowne Road Agreement that progress would be made on this issue during the lifetime of that agreement, which expired in 2018.

“The incoming administration, however it is composed, needs to recognise that there are a group of workers here who need to have the right to an occupational pension, upheld by the Labour Court 12 years ago, fully implemented,” he said.

Fórsa official Ian McDonnell said the next government would inherit the requirement to address the question of pension provision for all workers. “It’s a significant challenge and one that must be top-of-mind for the next administration, given its prominence as a general election issue.

“In the meantime, it would reflect well on the new administration to quickly deal with the unfinished business of CE supervisors. The cost of implementing the terms of the Labour Court’s 2008 recommendation from 2008 to 2019, to cover the implementation of agreeable pension compensation, is €31 million, and €3.5 million per annum is the cost of introducing a 6% weekly employer pension contribution. 

“There are over a thousand workers, many retired or approaching retirement, for whom the failure to implement the Labour Court’s recommendation has caused significant anguish and, for many, financial difficulties. They weathered the delay caused by the economic crisis, but the inexplicable delay of the last couple of years, during which the economy has been in robust health, reflects poorly on the outgoing government. This needs to be addressed urgently by the incoming administration,” he said.

While unions have been successful in achieving pay restoration for significant numbers of members employed in Section 39 organisations, members in smaller workplaces have yet to have the terms of the deal, agreed at the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) in October of 2018, applied to them. 

Fórsa official Catherine Keogh said members in a number of smaller employments were now ready to take industrial action next week. “Every stage of pay restoration for workers in the Section 39 agencies has been hard-fought. It has been a test of endurance for people who deliver vital health services in the community, for whom other work opportunities mean we’re now witnessing much higher staff turnover in employments providing vital care services.

“The failure to complete the pay restoration process is putting the sustainability of these services at risk, which would place the burden of service delivery back on HSE.

SIPTU Public and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane, said: “Within the sector, there is often a blatant disregard by employers for industrial relations norms. Many workers in the sector were subject to pay cuts during the austerity years that equalled those imposed on their colleagues in the public sector.

“There is an opportunity now for a new government to recognise that resolving these outstanding issues would be beneficial for the communities served by these workers, ensuring stability and industrial peace after years of fractious and avoidable uncertainty,” he said.

SIPTU Health Division Organiser, Paul Bell said: “SIPTU Health representatives have done everything possible to secure payments owed to our members in Section 39 organisations since a deal was brokered on 30th April 2019. The organisations at the centre of this dispute provide care services on behalf of the HSE through a Service Level Agreement (SLA) and have established pay links to public service pay scales. This pay relationship, which ultimately allowed for our members to have their pay cut in line with the Financial Measures in the Public Interest Act (FEMPI) during the downturn, is now being ignored while our members in the broader public service family are rightly having their pay restored and progressed through the Public Service Stability Agreement including an increase in take-home pay from 1st January 2020.

“Our members in these organisations, all low paid workers, are falling further behind, having endured cuts in pay of approximately 6% and also suffering a cut in their hours which has had a knock-on effect on service users and their families. They now have been left with no option other than to take action,” he said.

The rally was addressed by a number of workers from both sectors and by Fórsa General Secretary Kevin Callinan and SIPTU Deputy General Secretary John King