I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 111 together.
I thank the Deputies for raising this important matter. I will answer the questions in the context of the Labour Court tomorrow starting three days of intensive hearings and engagements on this dispute regarding some of the staff in our healthcare service represented by SIPTU.
It is important to say that staff in the public service are already in receipt of a series of pay increases and pay restoration measures under the public service stability agreement, which will see public servants receiving an average 7% increase in their salaries over the lifetime of the agreement. By the end of 2020, there is a commitment to restore 90% of the pay reductions experienced under the FEMPI legislation introduced after the economy was crashed by previous Governments. Staff also benefit from a public sector pension, something that is highly valuable to the employees, as well as other benefits, such as flexible working, sick leave and maternity leave, that workers may not have in other areas of the economy.
In terms of recruitment and retention of health service grades, the Public Service Pay Commission is continuing its work on assessing roles in the public service that have been identified as experiencing recruitment and retention issues. The commission has already made recommendations in respect of nurses, consultants and non-consultant hospital doctors, NCHDs, and the Government has accepted these findings.
Regarding the industrial action that took place on 26 June by SIPTU support staff grades, I was pleased that talks between the parties resumed at the Workplace Relations Commission, WRC, last Thursday. It is fair to say that some progress was made, but it was not possible to reach agreement on all issues. As a result, the matter has been referred to the Labour Court for an early hearing, which will commence tomorrow.
While I acknowledge that SIPTU acted in good faith by deferring two days of its planned industrial action, for which I thank it, we cannot forget that one day of action went ahead involving 10,000 staff across 38 healthcare facilities. In advance of the action, contingency plans were put in place to provide emergency cover. I thank those involved in that. Given the broad range of roles involved in the dispute and the fact that work practices can vary between sites, the majority of contingency planning had to be negotiated locally, which made the situation even more complex. Maintaining essential daily care for our patients in areas such as nutrition, hydration, patient transfers, cleaning and infection control posed an immense challenge. Despite the best efforts made around the contingency plans and trying to provide as complete a service as possible, however, it was the patients and their families who were disrupted most as a result of the industrial action.
I remind the Deputies that, prior to the dispute, constructive and positive engagement by the parties involved took place at the WRC. I am disappointed that the issue did not go to the Labour Court before the industrial action went ahead, but it will be before the court tomorrow and I hope for a resolution. I call on both parties to redouble their efforts.