On Thursday next, the already stretched health service will be under severe pressure, with another strike about to take place across 38 acute hospitals, the Central Mental Hospital and St. Ita's Hospital, Portrane. It will involve healthcare assistants, maternity care assistants, laboratory and theatre operatives and hospital chefs. This follows a long drawn-out industrial relations process going back to 2015 when, as part of the public service stability agreement, the Government and Department of Health agreed with the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the trade unions to a job evaluation process and scheme for these healthcare workers. Despite a lot of foot-dragging, many breaches of that agreement and the intervention of the national oversight body, which involves the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and the Irish Congress of Trade Unions, ICTU, and the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, the process was put back in train and phases 1 and 2 were completed by August of last year. The unions involved have honoured the pay agreements to date and have been constructive and responsible. I understand that hospitals are already considering the cancellation of elective admissions and that only emergency care will be available on Thursday if the strike is to go ahead.
Morale in the health service is very poor already. Human resources management of all of the staff working in our health service is abysmal on any objective analysis and there are real issues. These workers feel they have been dismissed by Government. They feel their role is not being acknowledged or appreciated enough by Government. They believe there has been a detachment and distancing from their issues by the Government all along.
As I said, this goes back to the 2015 Lansdowne Road agreement.
The job evaluation process is independent. Although the HSE made a decision to grant the pay awards in 2016, the Government has refused to make them. Payments range from €1,600 to €3,200 per year. It seems that no satisfactory explanation has been given by the Government for dragging its feet on the issue. Surely the Taoiseach agrees it is imperative the strike be averted, at all costs within the limits of the agreed process. Given that the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, has adjudicated on the matter, surely it is time for the Government to re-engage and honour its commitments.
The Taoiseach has repeatedly stated in the Chamber that the Government honours agreements made by the industrial relations machinery of the State. My understanding is that the Government is placing a condition on the case's referral to the Labour Court, which is unacceptable. I ask the Taoiseach to remove all those conditions and allow the full utilisation of the industrial relations machinery to resolve the dispute, prevent industrial action on Thursday and ensure the workers receive what they were promised by the Government more than four years ago.