Government must prevent ‘summer of discontent’ across community sector

28 June 2022

The Government should immediately engage with trade unions representing workers in the care and community sector following the announcement of industrial action across the sector, beginning next month, according to Labour spokesperson on health and disability, Duncan Smith.

“At the weekend SIPTU members in the Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) announced that they would conduct a countrywide work stoppage on Tuesday 5th July as part of a campaign to secure a pay rise for the first time in 14 years. These workers have now been joined in taking action by those employed in community organisations across county Waterford and county Galway. Even more workers in other locations across the country are expected to announce they will be striking in the coming days.

“These workers provide some of our most vital community and care services including care for persons with a disability, the elderly, vulnerable families, meals on wheels and youth services. They provide services as diverse as drug rehabilitation, working with women who have experienced domestic abuse, to supporting local sports clubs.

“Unfortunately, following these announcements the Government is still refusing to meet with the unions that represent these workers to seek a resolution to this dispute which could cause untold misery to the clients of these organisations, who I am told overwhelmingly support the workers in their stand. Even this Government can surely accept that no pay rise for workers, in many cases for more than 14 years, is just not acceptable.

“Up until 2008 union members employed in the care and community sector, including those in 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 unions and Government. In the private sector unionised workers’ pay is determined through enterprise-level negotiated collective bargaining arrangements. Reliant on stagnant government funding, employees in the care and community sector have not had any pay increase since 2008.

“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 these workers 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. 

“Government action can easily resolve this dispute. It must move to establish a long promised collective bargaining forum for this sector which will allow these workers to negotiate fair pay and conditions rather than being forced to take to the picket line. I am calling on Minister Heather Humphreys to do the right thing and engage with these workers unions immediately, otherwise as with the UK we may be facing into a summer of discontent provoked by a government who is doing nothing serious to sole the cost of living crisis while also refusing to engage with workers unions on fair pay rises.”

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