Educators in Morocco and Palestine donate wages to COVID-19 solidarity fund

As the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID–19) spreads across the world, paralysing entire countries, underprivileged families bear the brunt of the crisis, with parents unable to work and support their children. Educators in Palestine and Morocco have decided to donate part of their wages to help the most vulnerable and the fight against the virus.

With over 1.3 billion students worldwide out of school (over 80% of the global student population), millions of children from disadvantaged backgrounds are missing out on essential social services provided in their schools, such as school meals. To make matters worse, quarantine measures mean that many parents have lost their jobs or cannot leave the house to provide for their children.

Determined to help their students, education unions from Palestine and Morocco have mobilised their members to raise money for national solidarity funds.

 

Palestine: support for the vulnerable

Country-wide school closures in Palestine have affected over 1.6 million students at all levels of education. In this context, the Federation of Unions of Palestinian Universities Professors and Employees (FUPUPE), Education International member in the country, has decided to encourage its members to donate the wage for one working day to the unemployed and the families of disadvantaged students in Palestine.

 

Morocco: solidarity and union action against crisis profiteering

Nearly 9 million students are unable to attend classes as a result of the country-wide school closures in Morocco. Many of them find themselves in precarious situations.

Trade unions in Morocco, including Education International member Syndicat National de l’Éducation – Confédération Démocratique du Travail (SNE-CDT), have decided to encourage workers and educators to donate three days worth of wages over the next three months to the newly established COVID-19 solidarity fund.

However, while public education workers are showing their solidarity with the most affected, organisations representing private interests in education are lobbying the Moroccan government to obtain tax exemptions and financial assistance to cover workers’ salaries during the COVID-19 school closures. All the while, the same organisations are forcing parents to pay tuition while private schools are closed. In addition, just a few months ago, private education interest groups won a major tax reduction from the Moroccan government.

Education International and SNE-CDT have sent an official letter to the Prime Minister of Morocco, asking for this crisis profiteering to not be tolerated and for the government to distance itself from private education providers that only deepen inequalities and segregation in the country

A Socialist attempt in trying to deal with Covid-19: Cuba’s Contribution to Combating COVID-19

Helen Yaffe

COVID-19 surged in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019, and by January 2020 it had hit Hubei province like a tidal wave, swirling over China and rippling out overseas. The Chinese state rolled into action to combat the spread and to care for those infected. Among the thirty medicines the Chinese National Health Commission selected to fight the virus was a Cuban anti-viral drug, Interferon Alpha 2b. This drug has been produced in China since 2003, by the enterprise ChangHeber, a Cuban-Chinese joint venture.

Cuban Interferon Alpha 2b has proven effective for viruses with characteristics similar to those of COVID-19. Cuban biotech specialist Dr. Luis Herrera Martinez explained, “its use prevents aggravation and complications in patients, reaching that stage that ultimately can result in death.” Cuba first developed and used interferons to arrest a deadly outbreak of the dengue virus in 1981, and the experience catalyzed the development of the island’s now world-leading biotech industry.

The world’s first biotechnology enterprise, Genetech, was founded in San Francisco in 1976, followed by AMGen in Los Angeles in 1980. One year later, the Biological Front, a professional interdisciplinary forum, was set up to develop the industry in Cuba. While most developing countries had little access to the new technologies (recombinant DNA, human gene therapy, biosafety), Cuban biotechnology expanded and took on an increasingly strategic role in both the public health sector and the national economic development plan. It did so despite the US blockade obstructing access to technologies, equipment, materials, finance, and even knowledge exchange. Driven by public health demand, it has been characterized by the fast track from research and innovation to trials and application, as the story of Cuban interferon shows.

Interferons are “signaling” proteins produced and released by cells in response to infections that alert nearby cells to heighten their anti-viral defenses. They were first identified in 1957 by Jean Lindenmann and Aleck Isaacs in London. In the 1960s Ion Gresser, a US researcher in Paris, showed that interferons stimulate lymphocytes that attack tumors in mice. In the 1970s, US oncologist Randolph Clark Lee took up this research.

Catching the tail end of US President Carter’s improved relations with Cuba, Dr. Clark Lee visited Cuba, met with Fidel Castro, and convinced him that interferon was the wonder drug. Shortly afterwards, a Cuban doctor and a hematologist spent time in Dr. Clark Lee’s laboratory, returning with the latest research about interferon and more contacts. In March 1981, six Cubans spent twelve days in Finland with the Finnish doctor Kari Cantell, who in the 1970s had isolated interferon from human cells and had shared the breakthrough by declining to patent the procedure. The Cubans learned to produce large quantities of interferon.

Within forty-five days of returning to the island, they had produced their first Cuban batch of interferon, the quality of which was confirmed by Cantell’s laboratory in Finland. Just in time, it turned out. Weeks later Cuba was struck by an epidemic of dengue, a disease transmitted by mosquitos. It was the first time this particularly virulent strand, which can trigger life-threatening dengue hemorrhagic fever, had appeared in the Americas. The epidemic affected 340,000 Cubans with 11,000 new cases diagnosed every day at its peak. 180 people died, including 101 children. The Cubans suspected the CIA of releasing the virus. The US State Department denied it, although a recent Cuban investigation claims to provide evidence that the epidemic was introduced from the US.

Cuba’s Ministry of Public Health authorized the use of Cuban interferon to halt the dengue outbreak. It was done at great speed. Mortality declined. In their historical account, Cuban medical scientists Caballero Torres and Lopez Matilla wrote, “It was the most extensive prevention and therapy event with interferon carried out in the world. Cuba began to hold regular symposia, which quickly drew international attention.” The first international event in 1983 was prestigious; Cantell gave the keynote speech and Clark attended with Albert Bruce Sabin, the Polish American scientist who developed the oral polio vaccine.

Convinced about the contribution and strategic importance of innovative medical science, the Cuban government set up the Biological Front in 1981 to develop the sector. Cuban scientists went abroad to study, many in Western countries. Their research took on more innovative paths, as they experimented with cloning interferon. By the time Cantell returned to Cuba in 1986, the Cubans had developed the recombinant human Interferon Alfa 2b, which has benefited thousands of Cubans since then. With significant state investment, Cuba’s showpiece Center for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (CIGB) was opened in 1986. By then Cuba was submerged in another health crisis, a serious outbreak of Meningitis B, which further spurred Cuba’s biotechnology sector.

In 1976, Cuba was struck by Meningitis B and C outbreaks. Since 1916 only a few isolated cases had been seen on the island. Internationally, vaccines existed for Meningitis A and C, but not for B. Cuban health authorities secured a vaccine from a French pharmaceutical company to immunize the population against type C Meningitis. However, in the following years, cases of type B Meningitis began to rise. A team of specialists from different medical science centers was established, led by a woman biochemist, Concepción Campa, to work intensively on finding a vaccine.

By 1984 Meningitis B had become the main health problem in Cuba. After six years of intense work, Campa’s team produced the world’s first successful Meningitis B vaccine in 1988. A member of Campa’s team, Dr. Gustavo Sierra, recalled their joy: “this was the moment when we could say it works, and it works in the worst conditions, under pressure of an epidemic and among people of the most vulnerable age.” During 1989 and 1990, three million Cubans, those most at risk, were vaccinated. Subsequently, 250,000 young people were vaccinated with the VA-MENGOC-BC vaccine, a combined Meningitis B and C vaccination. It recorded 95% efficacy overall, with 97% in the high-risk three months to six years age group. Cuba’s Meningitis B vaccine was awarded a UN Gold Medal for global innovation. This was Cuba’s meningitis miracle.

“I tell colleagues that one can work thirty years, fourteen hours a day just to enjoy that graph for ten minutes,” Agustin Lage, Director of the Center for Molecular Immunology (CIM), told me, referring to an illustration of the rise and sudden fall of Meningitis B cases in Cuba. “Biotechnology started for this. But then the possibilities of developing an export industry opened up, and today, Cuban biotechnology exports to fifty countries.”

Since its first application to combat dengue fever, Cuba’s interferon has shown its efficacy and safety in the therapy of viral diseases including Hepatitis B and C, shingles, HIV-AIDS, and dengue. Because it interferes with viral multiplication within cells, it has also been used in the treatment of different types of carcinomas. Time will tell if Interferon Alfa 2b proves to be the wonder drug as far as COVID-19 goes.


Helen Yaffe is a lecturer in economic and social history at the University of Glasgow. Her teaching focuses on Latin American and Cuban development. Since 1995, she has spent time living and researching in Cuba. Her doctoral thesis was adapted for publication as Che Guevara: The Economics
of Revolution
 in 2009 and she is the co-author of Youth Activism and Solidarity: The Non-stop Picket Against Apartheid, 2017. She regularly provides commentary on Cuba for the mainstream media. Her most recent book is We Are Cuba! (https://yalebooks.yale.edu/book/9780300230031/we-are-cuba), which expands on the topic of this blog piece.

Public Hospital Doctors of Greece Protest at Ministry of Healthcare

The National Federation of Public Hospital Doctors of Greece (OENGE) held a protest at the Ministry of Healthcare on Thursday, March 19 demanding immediate measures for the protection of the people’s and doctors health faced with Covid-19 pandemic.

Specifically the doctors denounced the Governments tactics that even today refuse to stuff the Public Hospitals with the necessary doctors and personnel. Additionally the doctors protested for the shortages in necessary materials such as protective masks, gloves, etc.

The Federation also protested symbolically against the measure that prohibits gatherings of more than 10 persons, by 20 doctors standing together with their banner and raising their fists against any prohibition in trade union action.

Photos: https://flic.kr/s/aHsmM4rVfY

The Federation condemned the provocative stance of the Minister who refused to meet with the delegation of the Doctors under the pretext of the pandemic!

Video: https://youtu.be/tdhKDEqgN-U

Government must immediately intervene and put forward a comprehensive Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for workers -ICTU

Government must immediately intervene and put forward a comprehensive Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for workers -ICTU

20 Mar 2020

covid19

General Secretary Patricia King has expressed grave concern at  reports that employers who temporarily lay off workers because of coronavirus will not be refunded for paying them anything over and above the new Covid-19 unemployment payment of €203 per week offered by the State.

Patricia King said this is an unprecedented emergency for  the country, and she called for immediate intervention by Government to immediately develop a ‘Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme for Workers.’  which would seek to  uphold their  net income.

She said “ this will require a tripartite approach to develop this workable solution, and it is absolutely essential that  we mitigate the enormous stress felt by workers and their families, it is time for flexible thinking  and extraordinary solutions to ensure workers have enough to live on”.

Patricia King  said hundrerd of thousands  of workers  will be laid off and businesses have been temporarily  closed in this unprecedented emergency .  We are in extraordinary times which demands extraordinary solutions.

Covid-19: Advice to Fórsa members

Fórsa members are advised follow the HSE advice on protecting yourself and others from the coronavirus.

Reporting for work

The union advises members to report for work as normal unless:

  • You have been told not to attend work by your manager or HR department
  • Remote working arrangements have been put in place, and you have been told to work at home by your manager or HR department
  • You have a medical reason for not attending work
  • You are self-isolating on medical or HSE advice.

If you are in vulnerable group (ie, if you are over 60 or have a long-term medical condition like heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, cancer or high blood pressure), you should phone your doctor for advice before attending work. Please don’t attend the doctor’s surgery unless specifically advised to do so.

The HSE has also advised pregnant women to take extra care. So, if you are pregnant, you might also want to phone your doctor for advice before attending work.

Fórsa policy on Covid-19 and the workplace

The union’s elected national officers met last Friday (13th March) and agreed the following:

“Fórsa and its members across the civil, public, private, voluntary and semi-state sectors are committed to co-operating fully with emergency measures necessary to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus, protect the health and safety of citizens and workers, and maintain essential services during this unprecedented public health emergency.

“The union will continue to advise its members to co-operate with all necessary measures, including some that might not be acceptable in normal times, so long as employers consult with the appropriate unions, respect existing collective agreements, and reach agreement with the union if they feel it necessary to waive aspects of collective agreements in the short-term.”

Members are strongly advised to co-operate with management in its efforts to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus.

 

Members are strongly advised to co-operate with management in its efforts to contain the Covid-19 coronavirus, protect the health and safety of citizens and workers, and maintain essential services – including when this means doing different things, in different ways, at different times.

Guidance issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last Thursday (12th March) said staff redeployment across the civil and public services could be required to ensure the maintenance of essential services. It also called for the reassignment of staff within organisations to prioritise the most critical services.

The union is in constant liaison with management to ensure that appropriate protective and containment measures are in place.

If you have genuine concerns about the health and safety of yourself or others, or if you genuinely believe that collective agreements are being seriously breached without union consultation, you should contact the union HERE.

Volunteering for urgent tasks

The union expects management in various parts of the civil and public service to seek volunteers for redeployment to the HSE to undertake urgent work such as contact-tracing and staffing helplines. The civil service is also likely to seek redeployments into the Department of Employment and Social Protection to deal with expected increase in workloads there. Fórsa strongly urges members to volunteer if they are able to do so, and to co-operate with requirements arising from such redeployments.

Fórsa strongly urges members to volunteer if they are able to do so, and to co-operate with requirements arising from such redeployments.

 

Protections for public servants who contract the virus or self-isolate

Civil and public servants who contract the Covid-19 virus, or who are advised to self-isolate by a medical practitioner, will receive basic pay including fixed allowances from day one. Coronavirus-related sick leave will not be counted as part of the employee’s sick leave record, so long as they have medical or HSE confirmation of the need to self-isolate.

Childcare difficulties

Guidance issued by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform last Thursday (12th March) called on managers and employees to be flexible in circumstances where staff have to mind children on foot of school or crèche closures. In this regard, it recommends measures like home working, flexible shifts, or longer opening hours. It advises staff who experience coronavirus-related childcare difficulties to stay in regular contact with their managers.

Guidance issued by the Government has called on managers and employees to be flexible in circumstances where staff have to mind children on foot of school or crèche closures.

 

Fórsa is here to support you

Fórsa is here to protect you if you have problems arising from the coronavirus or other workplace issues. The best way to contact the union at this time is HERE.

We will deal with queries as quickly as we can but, needless to say, the union will prioritise cases where members’ jobs and incomes are at immediate risk – as well as any serious health and safety issues that may arise.

Union business

Fórsa has cancelled all face-to-face meetings for the time being. The union is redeploying its staff to prioritise engagement with management on proposals arising from the Covid-19 public health crisis, and to provide rapid and efficient responses to members’ queries and concerns.

Wherever possible, Fórsa staff have been equipped to work remotely. Therefore, members should NOT attend Fórsa offices at this time. If you have a query or concern, the best way to raise it is to contact the union HERE.

This item was first published on forsa.ie on Sunday 15th March.

WFTU Declaration on the International Working Women’s Day 8 March 2020

On the occasion of this year’s March 8th anniversary, the World Federation of Trade Union addresses a warm militant greeting to every woman all over the globe, working or unemployed, self-employed, in the city or in the countryside, young mother, student, retiree, refugee or immigrant, life fighters of the everyday.

We all, stand on the side of the women who struggle with the WFTU and the international class-oriented movement, and strongly believe in the necessity of the organization of the women’s fight for real equality and do not limit our militancy and struggles just in one day a year.

2020 is the year that marks the 75th anniversary of the World Federation of Trade Unions’ struggle and action since its founding in 1945. 75 years in which we are constantly fighting for the true equality of women, for a system that will free them from the double repression of their gender and class, for a system without man-to-man exploitation.

In this struggle, men and women are allies and they walk side by side in social and political action, claiming a life as we deserve, for their families: without wars and refugees, with constant and full-time work, with decent salaries and full insurance rights, with state infrastructures providing free public health, education, social welfare for all.

International Women Day is a symbol of struggle, sanctioned with the suggestion of socialist Clara Zetkin in 1911. It is a day dedicated to the strike of the New York women garment workers in 1857, demanding equal pay with their male colleagues, reduced working hours and human working conditions, and stood up to their employers and their state.

However today, 163 years later, all these are still demanded. Job intensification has increased, flexible forms of work tend to become the norm, in many countries women are still paid less than their male colleagues for the same job.

But not only that. Today, in 2020, with such development in science and technology, women still die during childbirth, due to lack of medical care, they do not go to school because of their gender, become victims of trafficking and are forced into prostitution, are drowning in the sea with their children in their arms, trying to avoid the bombs.

We, as the World Federation of Trade Unions, reject all policies aim to serve the large multinationals in order to continually increase their profits. This is the real reason behind every war, every anti-insurance law, every cut in wages and benefits, the shrinking of the social state. And finally, this is the real causality of inequality of the woman in every expression.

We believe that the best way to honor International Women’s Day is to continue our struggles against these policies and their perpetrators. Until the complete emancipation of every woman in every corner of the planet.

We will not stop until we do it!

Union News Update

Fórsa will ballot health and social care professionals (HSCPs) for industrial action if the health department proceeds with the recruitment of a chief nursing officer (CNO) on the basis of the current job description, and prior to appointing a specific HSCP advisor to the department.

The CNO post, which is currently being advertised, would subsume all other health and social care professions under the authority of a chief nursing officer.

Fórsa will not allow independent health professions to become a subset of nursing, as they would under this propos.

 

For a further update click here

Nipsa:

Community organisations, charities, trade unions and academics have written to the First and deputy First Minister and other party leaders urging them to ensure that a new Committee established under the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement is the final stage of agreeing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

It is expected that the Assembly will set up the Committee on Monday and the community groups want party leaders to guarantee it will deliver the long-awaited Bill of Rights, originally promised in the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement in 1998. C|lick here for more News

Other News:

Cleaning staff striking at University Hospital Waterford

Cleaning staff at University Hospital Waterford are taking to the picket lines this morning.

Around 125 members of the Unite trade union are striking in a row over changes to their working conditions without consultation.

Momentum Support took over the cleaning contract at the hospital from ISS last September.

Commenting on today’s strike action, Unite Regional Officer Tony Kelly accused Momentum of seeking to impose changes to working conditions without consultation: Read more here

Community Calls for Stormont to Deliver Bill of Rights

New Assembly Committee Expected to be set up on Monday

Community organisations, charities, trade unions and academics have written to the First and deputy First Minister and other party leaders urging them to ensure that a new Committee established under the New Decade, New Approach (NDNA) agreement is the final stage of agreeing a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

It is expected that the Assembly will set up the Committee on Monday and the community groups want party leaders to guarantee it will deliver the long-awaited Bill of Rights, originally promised in the Belfast / Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

One of the signatories to the letter, Kevin Hanratty, Director of the Human Rights Consortium stated:

“We are delighted that provision has been made for a Bill of Rights as part of the New Decade, New Approachagreement. “The deal is an attempt to restore devolution and ensure the stability of the Stormont institutions. The Belfast/Good Friday Agreement provided that ‘There will be safeguards to ensure that all sections of the community can participate and work together successfully in the operation of these institutions and that all sections of the community are protected.’ One of those provisions was a Bill of Rights. Its absence to date means we have never actually seen the Stormont institutions operate to their full potential. “The absence of a rights framework contributed to the problems and instability of the last Assembly. We want to avoid that in the future. Establishing a Bill of Rights will benefit everyone and bring much-needed coherence to the way in which business is conducted at Stormont. We urge all the parties to get behind this new process to develop the best possible protections for local people.”

The Ad-Hoc Committee is expected to be established through an Assembly motion on Monday 24th February with a Chair, Vice Chair and Committee representatives to be appointed shortly afterwards.

The letter from civil society has called for the Terms of Reference for the Committee to be based on principles that commit all parties to declaring their support for a Bill of Rights, ensuring full compliance with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by guaranteeing that the Bill of Rights incorporates and supplements the European Convention on Human Rights, and provides for the incorporation of international human rights standards.

Another signatory to the letter, Patrick Corrigan, Northern Ireland director of Amnesty International, said:

Letter to FMdFM and Local Party Leaders

Dear First and deputy First Minister,

Under the terms of New Decade, New Deal (NDNA) we note that the Ad-Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights is to agree terms of reference and a timetable within 30 working days of the restoration of devolution. Given that timeframe, we understand that the Committee, its terms of reference and timetable are due to be established within the next few days.

We welcome the renewed process to deliver this widely supported but unimplemented element of the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement. There is extensive community support, and an expectation that this process will now be the final step in delivering this long outstanding commitment. We therefore welcome and look forward to its establishment.

In order to help you and colleagues within other political parties frame the discussions that lie ahead we have drawn together what we believe are essential elements of the Terms of Reference for the new Committee.

Proposed Principles for Ad-Hoc Committee on a Bill of Rights Terms of Reference

All parties represented on the Committee should:

  1. Declare their support for the achievement of an enforceable and inclusive Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.
  2. Indicate that they are committed to working towards an agreed outcome in the form of a draft Bill of Rights.
  3. Ensure full compliance with the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement by guaranteeing that the Bill of Rights incorporates and supplements the European Convention on Human Rights/Human Rights Act 1998, draws on international instruments and experience, provides for the incorporation of international human rights standards and reflects the principles of mutual respect and parity of esteem.
  4. Confirm that the work of the Committee will be open and transparent, draw on existing expertise and will be open to engagement with wider Northern Ireland society.
  5. Support an open and transparent appointment process for the five experts who will support the work of the Committee.
  6. Ensure that there is a fixed timeframe and deadline for the Committee’s work and that parties are committed to reaching an agreement by that deadline.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it represents some of the key principles within which it would be helpful for the Committee to operate if it is to finally deliver an effective Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland.

We wish you and your colleagues well in this vital work. A Bill of Rights will, at long last, provide for a rights-based system of governance and decision making. We would be grateful for the opportunity to meet with you to further discuss how we can assist with this initiative at your earliest convenience.

Sincerely,

Kevin Hanratty, Director, Human Rights Consortium

Patrick Corrigan, Head of Nations and Regions, Amnesty International UK

Paddy Kelly, Director, Children’s Law Centre

Dr Anne Smith, Senior Lecturer, School of Law/Transitional Justice, Ulster University

Brian Gormally, Director, Committee on the Administration of Justice (CAJ)

Colin Harvey, Professor of Human Rights Law, School of Law, Queens University Belfast

Rory O’Connell, Professor of Human Rights and Constitutional Law, School of Law/Transitional Justice, Ulster University

Dr Esther McGuinness, Senior Lecturer in Law; Co-Director, Ulster University Law Clinic

Patrick Monteague, Chairperson, Focus: The Identity Trust

Andrew McCracken, Chief Executive, Community Foundation for Northern Ireland

Ciaran Moynagh, Director, Phoenix Law Human Rights Lawyers

Alison Millar, General Secretary, NIPSA

Roisin McLaughlin, Co-ordinator, North West Community Network

Danielle Roberts, Policy Officer, Here NI

Loraine Griffin, Manager, Community Organisations of South Tyrone & Areas (COSTA)

Ellen Finlay, Policy Officer, Children in Northern Ireland

Owen Reidy, Assistant General Secretary, Irish Congress of Trade Unions Northern Ireland

Taryn Trainor, Regional Women’s & Equalities Officer, UNITE

Rachel Powell, Women’s Sector Lobbyist, Women’s Resource and Development Agency

Anne McVicker, Director, Women’s Resource and Development Agency

Aoife Nolan, Professor of International Human Rights Law, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Nottingham

Patricia Bray, Coordinator, North West Forum of People with Disabilities

Paddy Mooney, Director, Include Youth

Sara McCracken, CEO, Angel Eyes NI

Boyd Sleator, Northern Ireland Humanists Coordinator, Humanists UK

Steve Williamson, Director, Cara-Friend

Patricia McKeown, Regional Secretary, UNISON

James Orr, Director, Friends of the Earth

Paschal McKeown, Charity Director, Age NI

Jonna Monaghan, Project Coordinator, Northern Ireland Women’s European Platform

Dessie Donnelly, Director, Participation and Practice of Rights Project

John O’Doherty, Director, The Rainbow Project

Anne Moore, Policy, Advocacy and Campaigns (PAC) Manager, Save the Children

Jim O’Neill, Programme Manager, Community Dialogue

Glenn J. Bradley, Chair Northern Ireland Business and Human Rights Forum

Robert Murtagh, President, NUS-USI

Know Your Rights- Being in a Union is important for you: Join a Union Today

Cleaning staff striking at University Hospital Waterford

Cleaning staff at University Hospital Waterford are taking to the picket lines this morning.

Around 125 members of the Unite trade union are striking in a row over changes to their working conditions without consultation.

Momentum Support took over the cleaning contract at the hospital from ISS last September.

Commenting on today’s strike action, Unite Regional Officer Tony Kelly accused Momentum of seeking to impose changes to working conditions without consultation:

“Our members have suddenly found themselves assigned to different work areas and tasks without either consultation or explanation, contrary to long-standing practice at the hospital. They have been forcibly moved to different areas because they refused to take up duties that are specific to other employees and are paid at a higher rate and attract different allowances. These duties include the emptying and collection of bins, currently carried out by male staff due to physical requirements and paid at a higher rate in accordance with agreements between Unite and the former service provider.

“This is having a negative impact on the quality of the service provided. At the same time, our members are concerned that new entrants, employed at lower terms and conditions, are being exploited to undermine existing agreements. While workers who transferred from ISS receive a €1.49/hour supplement, or site allowance, over the ERO rate, new entrants do not receive this supplement which may be worth up to €50 per week – a significant amount for low-paid workers earning just above the Minimum Wage. This new pay structure has the potential not only to create divisions between workers doing the same job but also to drive down workers’ pay in the medium term”.

Unite has also raised concerns about health and safety breaches and a lack of training in the handling of extremely aggressive and hazardous cleaning solutions, which has resulted in a number of members receiving burns even after Unite raised this issue with management.

Mr Kelly also highlighted the fact that long-standing members of staff in receipt of the agreed site allowance have also been excluded from working in certain areas of the hospital, such as the new Dunmore Wing because the company’s tender was based only on the minimum ERO rates: “This is another example of Momentum discriminating against former ISS workers and sets a very worrying precedent.

“Unite members working at UHW are aware of how critically important their work is to the smooth running of the hospital, and we have done everything in our power to resolve this dispute but we have now been left with no option but to take action.

“Our members are committed to the work they do to ensure that UHW provides a clean and safe environment for hospital patients and staff. We are calling on Momentum to clean up its act and ensure that all its workers providing cleaning services in the hospital are treated equally and with respect.”