Social care workers take industrial action over ‘twilight’ arrears

westSocial care workers and leaders across Galway and Roscommon have commenced industrial action Tuesday 8th September in a dispute over the outstanding €7.5 million in unpaid premium payments to the 400 social care staff working in the Brothers of Charity and Ability West services in both counties.

The staff, who work with people with intellectual disabilities, have commenced a work to rule. The action includes non-cooperation with additional duties and non-cooperation with service user appointments outside of the normal working week. IMPACT assistant general secretary Padraig Mulligan said the dispute has the potential to escalate to include work stoppages and a withdrawal from transport duties.

Padraig explained that IMPACT has sought to secure the payment of the twilight premium (time and one sixth between 8pm and midnight) for social care workers and leaders in both employments for more than a year. He said that while IMPACT had already succeeded in securing payment from January 2015, the arrears payment remains outstanding despite the HSE’s acceptance that the staff have a legal entitlement to them.

“The Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, intervened in the dispute when we had previously been on the verge of taking industrial action. There was a proposal at the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) last July that three years back pay would be paid but that deal was taken off the table at the last minute the Department of Health. Staff now have been left with no choice but to take action.

“These are people that never go on strike but because they are decent and dedicated, they are being penalised. This is the last thing they want to do but their backs are to the wall and they are not walking away from it now. Any form of industrial action is the action of last resort, and many of the members involved have expressed their concern for service users, they did not want it to come to this,” he said.

Rob Partridge, an IMPACT member working with the Brothers of Charity in Ballybane since 2008, explained, “This is not something any of us want to do. It’s the last resort. I’m not happy about it but there is nothing else we can do.”

Maura O’Callaghan works in Ability West. “I am feeling disheartened and just frustrated with the whole situation. This is ten years pay that we haven’t been paid. It’s hands-on work. It’s personal care. There are a lot of unsocial hours when most people are at home with their families. This is our money, our salary, our pay, what we are legally entitled to. But we are hopeful we will get an agreement.”

Padraig took the case to the Labour Relations Commission in 2013, and secured the payment from January 2015 onwards late last year. “We went to the LRC to try to do resolve this once and for all. In the end three years was agreed on at the LRC. It was being brought to the members for a ballot but the Department of Health withdrew this without explanation,” he explained.

Padraig said that the workers involved would continue to provide care to all service users, but he warned that the action could escalate if the matter remains unresolved.