Workers in certain state-funded health and social care bodies, known as Section 39 organisations, are to be balloted for strike action in a dispute over failure to restore pay cuts imposed during the economic crisis. 

Section 39 bodies are funded by the HSE to deliver healthcare, disability and social services to vulnerable clients - but their employees do not have the status of public servants. 

When public sector pay was cut after the 2008 banking collapse, employees in Section 39 bodies had similar reductions imposed in line with their public service colleagues.

However, while government employees have gradually seen their pay restored under public service pay agreements, many Section 39 workers have seen no parallel improvement in their wages. 

The situation was resolved in relation to around 50 Section 39 agencies under a 2018 agreement (though unions fear that some may be unable to honour that agreement due to funding difficulties), but a further 250 smaller ones have yet to see any resolution at all. 

Unions accuse the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform Michael McGrath of refusing to intervene in this long-running dispute, and following an emergency meeting today, SIPTU, Fórsa and the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation decided to ballot for strike action over the coming weeks.

The agencies facing the prospect of strike action are the National Council of the Blind, Delta Centre, Moorehaven, Camphill Communities, the Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland, National Guide Dogs for the Blind, De Paul, Ard Aoibhinn, South Doc in Cork, Valentia Community Health and Welfare Association, St Joseph's Home, Killorgan, Western Alzheimer's and Co Action Ireland Cork.

In a statement, the HSE noted that Section 39 agencies are independent agencies. 

It said the HSE and other stakeholders remain committed to working with Section 39s to address issues via the ongoing WRC process which is the most appropriate forum to deal with these matters.

SIPTU Public Administration and Community Division Organiser, Adrian Kane said Minister McGrath's decision to "wash his hands of the dispute" had left a bitter taste in the mouths of members. 

He said these were the same workers who ensured essential services had been maintained throughout the pandemic and that they were determined to see their campaign through to secure "pay justice".

Fórsa official, Catherine Keogh accused the Government of "effectively turning their backs on these workers", when they had continued to provide a range of health services to the community throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. 

"These are workers providing essential services who haven't had the luxury of turning their backs on their responsibilities. They continue to fight for modest pay restoration measures, already agreed in other Section 39 employments. They deserve a swift and decisive response that shows their work is valued," she said. 

SIPTU Health Industrial Organiser, Damian Ginley said unions had decided that if employers failed to meet the terms of the agreement, union members would have no choice but to ballot for industrial action. 

"We are calling on the Government to back up their applause for essential frontline workers, to put their money where their mouth is and provide necessary funding to make sure all Section 39 workers get the pay justice they deserve," he said.