IMPACT/HSE stand off crucial to health services and Croke Park deal
“Mission critical” is how HSE management have described the ongoing stand off between them and IMPACT union members. This show down between HSE management and IMPACT members has the potential to cause mayhem in the health system as well as increasing the likelihood of union rejection of the Croke Park deal.
Public sector workers have been working to rule since the end of January, engaging in various different kinds of action including non-cooperation with reconfiguration, redeployment, not answering of phones.
This action was a direct response by the unions to the pay cuts introduced in December on top of levies already imposed on public sectors. These measures have had a particularly hard hit on low income public sector workers. As part of this action, IMPACT members in the HSE are not reporting on financial and activity information. Three months on this is now having a significant effect, principally for HSE management. It is a very clever form of action as frontline services are continuing as usual and patient care is not being affected.
The HSE say they can live with most of the work to rule measures such as nurses not answering phones a morning while it is inconvenient it is live-able with. But the non-collection or non-reporting of financial and performance information is critical for HSE management for a few reasons.
The HSE has got pretty good at monthly reporting on progress eg percentage of patients receiving an urgent colonoscopy within 4 weeks, or the number of home help hours provided – this is very important information on patient care.
But it is the financial information that is crippling HSE management. The HSE has a smaller budget this year, with a five per cent cut in its total budget and in its Service Plan for 2010 was planning to do more with less.
Also, this year the HSE needs to make €400 million in savings in order to live within its budget. And HSE CEO Brendan Drumm is personally responsible for the HSe to live within their budget allocation. Without the detailed information, the HSE have no idea if their target savings of €400 million is on track.
As a HSE senior director said to me yesterday, its like signing checks without knowing your bank balance. So they just do not have the information on what’s been spent where.
IMPACT members are in the process of considering the Croke Park deal although their executive have already rejected the deal but are considering it again next Thursday.
The HSE say that the non collection or non returning of information is not work to rule but industrial action and that’s considered much more serious with the potential of disciplinary action on staff who are not collecting or reporting on this information.
There are two reasons this is coming to a head now. One the HSE board met to discuss this matter on Friday 23 April where they have put in place their National Crisis Management Team and leaked a comprehensive 12 page memo on what are their options for dealing with the current action. Secondly, the HSE and IMPACT were back in the Labour Relations Commission (LRC) this week and perhaps the HSE were hoping to get a result from that. The LRC talks broke down at 1am on Wednesday morning and at the time of writing the two sides had not been in touch.
There are many things within the Croke Park deal like redeployment of staff, longer working day, working 5 days over 7, cooperation with transformation, that IMPACT union say they are ready to sign up to if agreed. But there is also a clause in the Croke Park deal in relation to ongoing discussions between the HSE and IMPACT on a 2004 Framework Agreement.
In December 2004, just days before Christmas 2004 and before the HSE came into existence, the acting HSE CEO, Kevin Kelly did a very last minute deal with IMPACT. This Framework Agreement was brought about due to the absence of adequate planning and clarity on the new structures of the HSE. The 2004 agreement guaranteed all old health board staff security of employment, their permanent and pensionable status and terms and conditions no less favourable than they already had. Plus no relocation unless agreed. This deal allowed for the duplication of many senior managers in the new HSE rather than a rationalised service as was expected.
IMPACT is saying they want clarification on the job security of their members guaranteed under the new agreement. They say that the HSE management could clarify matters easily. The HSE say they are happy to clarify things but they can’t renegotiate a side deal with IMPACT while the Croke park deal is being voted on. And that’s the stand off.
Mary Harney has come in behind the HSE and that is important. IMPACT say they have no intention of stopping action without clarification on 2004 deal. HSE say they will give all the clarification they can give but no additional deal.
The HSE plan is to cut money from overall budget now so as to have a contingency if overspend emerges later in the year – this will directly affect patient care sooner later than later.
The other HSE option is to discipline staff which will cause an escalation of action across the HSE and perhaps the public sector which in turn could sabotage Croke Park deal.
There are no easy options here….