SIPTU members working in 50 HSE-funded health and social care agencies have overwhelmingly backed proposals to address pay inequality in the sector.

The trade union has warned that it will now be seeking pay restoration in 252 other so-called Section 39 agencies, like hospices, which secure funding from the HSE but whose staff do not legally qualify as public servants.

The union represents over half of the 12,000 workers in Section 39 bodies, whose pay was cut in line with public servants during the economic crisis.

However, many of the 302 Section 39 bodies had refused to restore their remuneration in line with pay restoration introduced for public servants under the Public Service Stability Agreement.

The disparity fuelled anger among Section 39 workers and led to the threat of strike action.

Following negotiations, a pay restoration framework was agreed which would see restoration take place from 30 April of next year and conclude by October 2021.

Members would get pay rises of between 4.66% and 6.5%.

Today, SIPTU members overwhelmingly backed the proposals.

Health Divisional Organiser Paul Bell said this was a tremendous step for members in Section 39 agencies who had fought a determined campaign for pay justice.

He said the agreement provided the first significant step in ensuring that members not only received outstanding payments, but would also have their pay linkage to public servants protected into the future.

Mr Bell cautioned that today's ballot only covered 50 out of the 302 Section 39 bodies, and confirmed that SIPTU has today contacted the HSE about commencing similar audits in the remaining 252 agencies.

In the Dáil, Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin accused the Government of "lacking any moral compass" over pay restoration to Section 39 organisations.

Mr Martin said thousands of people depend on these organisations for residential, respite, daycare support services, personal assistants, homecare assistants and access to therapies.

He asked why these workers, who look after the most vulnerable in society are "penalised so blatantly by this Government through its pay policy and discriminated against so much?"

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar acknowledged there was a dispute over pay in Section 39 bodies that went to the WRC and an agreement was reached.

He said that he would hope the employers and the unions will honour that agreement.

Mr Varadkar said funding for Section 39 bodies has increased for the last three years at a higher rate than funding for the HSE and its own services.

He said the Fianna Fáil leader's assessment "doesn't really add up." 

Additional reporting: Conor McMorrow