Workers in community and voluntary sector organisations, funded by the Health Service Executive and other State agencies, are to take indefinite strike action from Tuesday 17 October.

The Irish Congress of Trade Unions (ICTU) said the action will involve thousands of health and community workers in a variety of grades and in multiple locations, bringing services to a halt.

The organisations that will be impacted include Enable Ireland, the Irish Wheelchair Association and Family Resource Centres.

Unions say that health and social care professionals employed in agencies funded by the HSE are paid significantly less than equivalent workers employed directly by the HSE and other State bodies.

The decision to strike follows ballots carried out by Fórsa, the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and SIPTU.

All three unions said ballot returns showed a high level of participation in the ballot, and overwhelming support for industrial action, up to and including strikes.

The ballot took place following the breakdown of talks at the Workplace Relations Commission in July.

ICTU general secretary Owen Reidy said the strike action is an inevitable consequence of the failure of the Government to address a serious and growing problem with how the agencies are funded, and a recruitment and retention crisis in vital services.

"Workers in the sector now have chosen to take action because the State, as the chief funding body for these services, has failed to grasp the seriousness of the staffing crisis in this sector," Mr Reidy said.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, Mr Reidy later said the action was "very serious, it is unprecedented", but the words and actions of his members have fallen on deaf ears with the Government.

He added that ten years of stagnation and falling behind is what justifies the action. He added that many of the service users' families are "full square behind the workers."

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Fórsa health and welfare official Ashley Connolly said taking strike action was a difficult decision for workers but that that they have been left with no more options.

"The Government has been dragging its feet on the issue for years, while making conciliatory noises to health workers who urgently need pay improvements," Ms Connolly said.

SIPTU health division official Kevin Figgis said the decision to strike clearly demonstrates the level of frustration among workers.

"Our members involved in this dispute provide essential health services on behalf of the State. Should voluntary providers continue to have recruitment and retention issues, and are no longer able to provide these services, there will be an obligation on the HSE to step in and provide them directly," Mr Figgis said.

INMO official Albert Murphy said nurses in the community and voluntary sector have not been afforded the same level of pay increases as their colleagues in the HSE, which is exacerbating a recruitment and retention crisis in the sector.

"Nurses in the sector are now facing into another winter with rising household costs, yet their salaries remain stagnant," Mr Murphy said.

The Department of Health has said setting pay rates for the staff is not a matter for the Government

Enable Ireland said that while it supports the requested pay increase, it is not in a position to fund it directly.

"The pay parity gap in Enable Ireland is currently costed at €3.6 million per annum and this gap will increase further from October 2023 as the next phase of the Building Momentum agreement is implemented," Enable Ireland said.

"Enable Ireland continues to call on Government to implement pay alignment," it added.

The organisation said it does not yet know the impact the planned strike action will have on service users and that it will engage with unions over the coming weeks to try to minimise disruption.

The Irish Wheelchair Association (IWA) said the decision to strike came as no surprise, given the persisting issue of pay parity within the healthcare sector which it said is causing a recruitment crisis.

"As a result, IWA is calling on the government to intervene to prevent further suffering of the most vulnerable individuals in our society," the association said in a statement.

Department response

"Section 39" organisations are contracted to provide services on behalf of the HSE for a funding grant in accordance with Section 39 of the Health Act 2004.

The Department of Health said that recent engagements with unions at the WRC had resulted in an offer of a 5% increase in funding for pay effective from November, with 3% backdated to April.

"A commitment to re-engage with trade union representatives following any further public sector pay agreement was also offered," the department said.

"This combined offer was not accepted by trade union representatives, and it is disappointing that their members were not afforded the opportunity to vote on whether they wished to accept the 5% increase in pay funding.

"The offer was in line with those accepted by community and voluntary staff in other sectors," the department added.

The Department of Health also said that while the Government has engaged in this process, Section 39 and Section 56 organisations are privately owned and operated, and the terms and conditions of employment for staff in those organisations are ultimately between the employer and their employee.

"Any industrial action will impact negatively on the people who use their services, and the Department of Health would urge all parties to work on resolving any disputes through the appropriate forums, in the interests of users of these services," the department said.

It added that agencies have been asked to engage in contingency planning with the relevant employer organisations so that any impact on those who depend on these essential services can be managed to the greatest extent possible.

Several one-day strikes were held at community, voluntary and healthcare organisations across the country last year as part of a campaign demanding better pay and conditions.

Workers in the following organisations will take indefinite strike action from Tuesday 17 October:

  • Ardeen Cheshire Ireland
  • Ability West
  • Cheshire Ireland
  • Cheshire Dublin
  • Cheshire Home Newcastle West
  • Co-action West Cork
  • Cobh Hospital
  • Daughters Of Charity Child and Family Service
  • DePaul Ireland
  • Don Bosco Care
  • Enable Ireland (nationwide, including Cork, Tralee, East Coast and Midwest regions)
  • Family Resource Centres
  • Irish Wheelchair Association
  • Kerry Parents and Friends
  • St. Catherines Association Ltd
  • St. Josephs Foundation
  • St. Lukes Nursing Home
  • Trinity Community Care
  • Western Care Association