Cork workers set for protest march on capital

Community and healthcare workers need respect and a pay rise, says Chris O’Leary, SIPTU activist, EmployAbility Service worker, and former Lord Mayor of Cork, ahead of a protest
Cork workers set for protest march on capital

Community sector and Section 39 organisation workers will meet at Customs House, Dublin 1, at 11am tomorrow and march to Merrion Square,

COMMUNITY sector and workers in Section 39 healthcare organisations, from across Cork and indeed nationally, have united in a call for respect and a pay rise.

So far their demands have been ignored by the Government and that is why many of them will gather in Dublin on Tuesday, May 3 to protest and call for dialogue.

Some of the hundreds of organisations they work for are well known across Cork such as Marymount University Hospital and Hospice, the Irish Wheelchair Association, EmployAbility Services, the Rehab Group, Enable Ireland, St. Joseph’s Foundation, CoAction West Cork, Praxis Care, St. Luke’s Home, Cobh Community Hospital, Tabor Lodge and Cheshire Homes while others work in much smaller locally based organisations, which have evolved to meet the needs of their immediate community.

What unites this diverse group of workers is that they fill the gaps left by the State. They are often a lifeline for the most marginalised people in our society.

The community sector suffered the largest cuts of any sector in the aftermath of the economic collapse. From 2008 to 2014 there was an average resource cut of 40%, including cuts in support staff of nearly a third. Their colleagues in Section 39 organisations while working in largely government funded services, have none of the protections of public servants, although many are in identical roles.

They also have seen their wages massively decline in real terms without being offered any avenue to negotiate improvements.

Workers in Section 39 organisations across Cork went out to work everyday throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, putting themselves and their families at risk, to maintain vital services for those who need them in our communities across the county from North Cork to West Cork and everywhere in between. These workers cannot now be left behind by our Government and their dedication left unnoticed.

Up until 2008 union members employed in community and Section 39 organisations received pay increases in line with national wage agreements under Social Partnership. Public sector workers’ pay continues to be determined through public sector pay agreements negotiated between the Public Service Committee of the ICTU and Government. In the private sector unionised workers’ pay is determined through enterprise-level negotiated collective bargaining arrangements. Reliant on largely stagnant government funding, employees of community sector and Section 39 organisations have not had any pay increase since 2008 (some have had pay restored which had previously been cut).

The Government has consistently refused to accept any responsibility for pay and conditions of employment in these organisations, claiming that the State is not the employer. This has resulted in workers in the community sector and Section 39 organisations having the worst of both worlds, many were treated as public servants when the Government reduced their pay in the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, but when it comes to pay increases the Government pulls down the corporate veil and refuses to take any responsibility for pay and conditions.

Organisations in the sector are also facing a staff retention crisis due to the uncompetitive nature of pay and their sub-standard conditions of employment.

However, the model of service provision provided by these organisations is not only threatened by the failure to respect workers in terms of pay and conditions. The Government would also seem to be intent on pursuing a flawed privatisation agenda in relation to many of these organisations and the services they provide.

Maximus – a huge private corporation and one of the largest providers of public services to the US government - has established an office in Dublin. It has been reported that the reason why is to scope out the potential to bid on state contracts to run employment support services, which have traditionally been run by small, community based non-profit organisations. Other large corporate organisations from Britain and Europe have also expressed interest in the provision of these services.

The trade union position, namely, that the services remain within the community sector was endorsed in a report last November by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Social Protection. Despite this the Government has continued to push on with a tendering process which could see these services privatised.

Our members will travel from Cork to take to the streets of Dublin tomorrow, Tuesday, but regrettably if we do not have real and tangible movement both in respect of pay and collective bargaining arrangements industrial action will commence in vital organisations across Cork and nationally from June of this year. This is deeply regrettable, however our members believe they must take action now to protect the services they provide and the vulnerable sectors of our society which rely upon them.

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