Risk of workers being ‘left out of the recovery’
IMPACT trade union, which represents approximately 5,000 workers in the community and voluntary sector, has launched a campaign aimed at restoring pay to workers in the sector. The campaign, Caring- At What Cost?, is calling for pay restoration for community and voluntary sector workers, through the gradual restoration of funding cuts in the agencies where they work.
The grassroots campaign is targeting TDs which is asking workers, agencies, representative bodies, other stakeholders in the sector, as well as the wider public, to sign the petition on the campaign’s website, and write to their local TD.
IMPACT organiser Joe O’Connor explained, “After years of pay reductions across all sectors in the aftermath of the economic collapse, welcome pay improvements are now underway in the public sector and large parts of the private sector as our economy recovers.
“The restoration of income is crucial to the continuing economic recovery. Every worker needs a pay rise, and workers in the community and voluntary sector are at risk of being left out of the recovery. What’s needed is a gradual restoration of funding to the organisations that rely on state funding, in order to restore worker incomes and prevent difficulties for these organisations to retain staff,” he said.
Mr O’Connor explained that most workers in the sector have experienced a series of pay cuts. In many cases, at the instruction of funding agencies like the HSE, these cuts mirrored those that applied in the public sector under the FEMPI legislation between 2009 and 2013. However, many in the sector experienced further pay restrictions through increment freezes and reduced working hours.
Mr O’Connor added, “In recent years, successive Irish Governments have increasingly relied on the community and voluntary sector to deliver services to the most vulnerable people and communities, including those who are experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities, older people in care, and those who are marginalised by addiction, health difficulties or poverty.
“However, the capacity of the sector to play a strong role in service delivery has been severely tested over the years of recession. Sustained cutbacks to organisational funding have been accompanied by increased demand for assistance from individuals and communities that find themselves under pressure as a result of the economic crisis.
“Within these organisations employees are increasingly expected to do more with less and for less. These services continue to lean heavily on the individual commitment and efforts of staff to keep things going, but that’s not a sustainable approach. Services cannot survive like that, and staff can’t continue working under these circumstances. Better working opportunities are emerging in other sectors, and then the challenge for service providers becomes one of retaining staff,” he said.
IMPACT has successfully secured the restoration of increments for staff working in one high-profile voluntary agency, which was agreed late last year. Negotiations have been ongoing with a number of employers in the community and voluntary sector over the last 12 months as part of the union’s overall pay restoration strategy.
IMPACT assistant general secretary, Ashley Connolly, has represented members in a number of agencies in the sector and said that the recent decision showed a welcome breakthrough for staff at the agency. “While negotiations continue in a number of other employments, we decided not to name the specific agency until those negotiations are concluded.
“However, it does represent a significant breakthrough in the community and voluntary sector, and indicates that the years of retrenchment in the sector are finally coming to an end. We still face a very significant challenge in restoring pay elsewhere in the sector, but this signals a welcome change,” she said.
The union’s Caring- At What Cost? campaign follows the report, published by IMPACT last year, which said that state funding for ‘Section 39’ funded agencies needs to be restored to ensure the sustainability of care services. The union said that the terms and conditions of staff in Section 39 agencies should be moved onto terms comparable with their public service counterparts.