(26 January 2023) The issues facing workers in public services in Ireland are very similar to the challenges for workers in the rest of Europe. Workers are demanding higher pay to address the cost-of-living crisis and more staff to deliver quality care. After years of austerity, the COVID-19 pandemic exposed the lack of funding in public services, while at the same time underlining how crucial public services are to keep our society from imploding. Jan Willem Goudriaan, EPSU General Secretary, discussed those issues with comrades of affiliates during a visit to Ireland. He addressed the Forsa Executive Committee meeting and met with its General Secretary Kevin Callinan. With the executive we looked at union organising, the impact of home working on the unions, and the growth of the extreme-right and its impact on democracy. The recent Directive on Minimum Wages and targets for collective bargaining coverage can assist the workers and unions in Ireland to build better sectoral industrial relations to improve pay and conditions.
Other meetings were with the General Secretary of the Irish Nurses and Midwifes (INMO) Phil Ni Sheaghdha. Safe staffing and wages, the exploitation of nurses in elderly care homes and how the union organised its first conference for nurses with a migrant background were discussed. The INMO operates a unique monitoring of patients waiting in trolleys for them to be admitted for treatment. The Trolley Ward Watch monitors over-crowding and the lack of staff. Phil gave examples of the consequences of such waiting times and how the union Is seeking discussion with management and the government. During the weekend large demonstrations had taken place across Ireland against waiting lists and over-crowding and to re-open emergency units. We looked at the role of Europe, the European social dialogue and examples of the situation in other countries where industrial action is going on. The union is consulting its members on such actions. An EPSU success has been the qualification of COVID 19 as an occupational decease for health and social services workers. The union is campaigning to obtain compensation for its members which contracted COVID-19 and now have long-covid, building on this Commission decision.
The General Secretary met John King, SIPTU Deputy General Secretary, and Kevin Figgis, Head of the Health Section of SIPTU. The update included developments in local government services, including around pressures for outsourcing, lack of staffing and the demands for better recognition for retained firefighters and their role in rural communities. These workers have agreed to industrial action. A theme we hear across Europe is that many are under pressure, cannot take leave entitlements due to staff shortages while incomes are reduced due to measures related to austerity. Action is foreseen if last minute talks do not solve the situation. We looked at the possible referendum on water and making sure that the water company is firmly in public ownership. This referendum is expected this year. SIPTU organises workers in the waste industry which is mostly private and organised such that competition is for bins not for waste collection in neighborhoods for example. Our discussions on health and care were detailed focusing on health care assistants and their future, the changing role of ambulance workers to become para-medics, staff shortages, and elderly care sector which is mostly private and starts to be dominate by large players such as the French company Orpea. The new prime minister Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has stated that a public inquiry into the deaths and handling of the pandemic will take place in 2023. Issues of staffing need to be raised in the context of this.
All three unions Forsa, SIPTU and INMO support striking workers in the UK and the protests against the Minimum Service Level Legislation during strikes.
The meeting took place 25 and 25 January 2023, Dublin.