Around 1800 medical scientists, whose work includes carrying out Covid-19 tests, have warned of possible industrial action in a long-running dispute over pay.

The Medical Laboratory Scientists Association says that since 2002, they have been seeking pay equality with scientists working in biochemistry labs, who they claim earn up to 8% more for doing "identical" work. The MLSA describes this disparity as "grossly unfair".

Their members are employed in public voluntary hospitals, HSE hospitals, private hospitals and the Irish Blood Transfusion Service, and carry out critical diagnostic tests.

MLSA Chairperson, Kevin O'Boyle said: "There is palpable anger and unrest in laboratories all across the country and the likelihood of industrial action is growing."

The union's General Secretary Terry Casey called on the HSE, the Department of Health, the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform to engage in "urgent and meaningful talks on pay and conditions" ahead of the union's AGM this Saturday. 

"At this stage we are not confident that some form of industrial action can be averted. This long-running pay dispute requires immediate resolution to avoid widespread disruption to laboratory diagnostic services as we enter the Winter Flu season, with the Covid-19 pandemic continuing to give grave cause for concern."

The MLSA welcomed the recent government decision to resolve the long-running pay dispute with Public Health Doctors by introducing legislation allowing pay rises and regrading to be sanctioned for groups within the public service.

Terry Casey noted that up to 130 public sector posts for Medical Scientists are currently unfilled, alleging that graduates were opting for more lucrative positions in the private sector.

"Medical laboratories in the Irish health service are now at tipping point resulting from the critical shortage of qualified Medical Scientists. The Covid-19 pandemic, and the requirement to provide urgent additional testing capacity in all hospital laboratories, have turned an already difficult situation into an emergency."

Mr. Casey also criticised the failure to restore a 5% pay cut levied through reduced on-call payments during the economic crisis, saying it had caused further outrage.

The Department of Public Expenditure and Reform which oversees public sector pay, said this was a matter for the Department of Health.

The Department of Health said it had met with the MLSA, the trade union representing scientists, on three occasions in recent months. 

It added that it was considering the issues raised and would engage with DPER in this regard.