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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Enable Ireland staff on strike in Cork and Kerry

Fórsa flags waved from a baby’s buggy as workers carrying green picket placards marched on strike outside Enable Ireland in Cork, demanding government pay them the same as other workers in their sector. 

On the third day of national care and community worker strike action this week, some 70 workers were on strike outside Enable Ireland in Curaheen in Cork with more workers on the picket in Kerry, although essential services were maintained in both counties.

Enable Ireland provides services to 13,000 children and adults with disabilities from 40 locations in 14 counties. It is part funded by the HSE and other statutory agencies but requires more than €2m in additional funding to deliver its vital services.

“For many years, Enable Ireland has advocated for pay parity for our staff and we fully support staff demands to align pay scales on an equitable basis with their colleagues in the HSE and other voluntary agencies,” a statement from Enable Ireland said.

“Enable Ireland believes this is the only fair way to recruit and retain our valued employees who are essential to deliver the critical services to children and adults and their families which we are contracted by HSE to provide each year.

“The cost of addressing this requested pay increase of 3% for our staff is circa €1.3m per annum. Funding this from Enable Ireland fundraising and commercial income is not feasible given that, for 2022, we are already operating at a budget deficit of €3.69m.”

‘Enable Ireland believes this is the only fair way to recruit and retain our valued employees who are essential to deliver the critical services to children and adults and their families which we are contracted by HSE to provide each year.’ Picture: Denis Minihane

Colette Crowe, administration officer with Enable Ireland, said that service users and staff are suffering due to the widening pay gap between care and community workers with bodies like Enable Ireland on section 39 contracts, and HSE staff or those on more favourable section 38 contracts. 

“The government mandates us to provide services to children with complex disabilities,” Ms Crowe said.

“We perform these services on behalf of the government, yet we are paid much less than HSE staff or Section 38 organisations for the same work. The pay gaps are quite significant and are rising all the time.

“I work in recruitment. It is so hard to recruit and retain staff. We have a high volume of vacancies and are constantly recruiting. But when people can get paid more doing the same job for the HSE or Section 38 organisations, why would they come, or stay, here?”

Another Enable Ireland employee who works as a therapist and has 20 years experience, said that morale is low and waiting lists are overwhelming.

“Teams [childrens disability network teams] are decimated and children are crying out for services,” they said. “One team has one psychologist to serve 600 – 700 children with high needs.

“Another team has no physiotherapist to serve 400 – 500 children. Maternity leave is not covered. Waiting lists are getting longer and longer and we have so few staff that only crisis cases are getting seen.”

“Families feel they’re getting no services, and in reality, many are not. There are shortages across the board.” 

'For many years, Enable Ireland has advocated for pay parity for our staff and we fully support staff demands to align pay scales on an equitable basis with their colleagues in the HSE and other voluntary agencies.' Picture: Denis Minihane
‘For many years, Enable Ireland has advocated for pay parity for our staff and we fully support staff demands to align pay scales on an equitable basis with their colleagues in the HSE and other voluntary agencies.’ Picture: Denis Minihane

Niall Shanahan of Fórsa trade union said that there has been no indication from Government that it will come to the table on the issue, and all the time services are being eroded.

He said that the problem began in 2009 when the link to public service pay to these agencies was broken with the collapse of social partnership after the economic crisis.

A statement from the HSE said that while the HSE has no direct involvement in these negotiations, it appreciates the significant efforts of the Section 39 and Forsa representatives to ensure essential services continue and to minimise the impact on service users and their families. 

“Section 39 agencies receive a grant from the HSE to provide services similar or ancillary to the HSE. It is important to note that HSE do not employ staff in Section 39 agencies. Pay agreements are negotiated between government departments, employers, employee representative bodies and the WRC.”

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