Hand Claps For Section 39 Employees but no Pandemic Bonus - Tóibín
Responding to the Minister’s refusal to provide a Pandemic Bonus to Section 39 Workers Aontú leader and Meath West TD Peadar Tóibín stated:
“Many of the Section 39 employees work on the front line day care services particularly providing services to people with disabilities have not got the Pandemic Bonus. They are understandably feeling very aggrieved as the criteria drawn up for the payment was limited to healthcare workers who were exposed to COVID in their work setting. Healthcare workers who fall under the category of those excluded worked exceptionally hard to keep COVID out of their workplace. As a result of their efforts working with many vulnerable people who were at high risk of COVID they managed to help reduce the numbers of people placed at risk. By extension they actively helped reduce the number of COVID related deaths. I recently discovered through questioning of the Minister for Health that 27% of COVID fatalities occurred within nursing homes, and yet it seems a large number of healthcare employees who went above the call of duty to prevent other categories of high risk people being exposed to the virus are now being penalised.
The Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, has told me in a Parliamentary Question reply while he appreciates the efforts of this group of Section 39 healthcare workers there are no plans to review the process to address the situation.
The decision not to extend the Pandemic Recognition Payment to these employees is a reflection of the wider lack of recognition of these employees where poor pay and conditions results in difficulty recruiting and retaining staff where there is an ongoing crisis within the sector. The large number of employees who have been overlooked for this payment are not going to forget this easily and the Minister cannot underestimate how much this decision can only add to the poor morale within the sector”.
For Written Answer on : 18/01/2023
Question Number(s): 1349 Question Reference(s): 63896/22
Asked by: Peadar Tóibín T.D.
To ask the Minister for Health if his attention has been drawn to the large cohort of frontline staff in healthcare settings under Section 39 who provide a service on behalf of the HSE who still remain excluded from qualifying for the pandemic special recognition payment; the person or body that decided the eligibility criteria; the methodology that was used in deciding to exclude this cohort of Section 39 frontline staff from the payment; the reason that no independent centralised appeals mechanism was put in place; if his attention has been drawn to the number of this particular cohort that are excluded from the payment; if he will direct his Department and the HSE to conduct research and analysis through engagement with the various representative bodies and organisations to determine the number of this cohort that are involved in order to rectify the situation; if so, the timeline for when the research will be conducted; and if he will make a statement on the matter.
Last year the Government announced a once-off, ex-gratia COVID-19 pandemic recognition payment for certain frontline public sector healthcare workers, to recognise their unique role during the pandemic.
This payment is for certain eligible public sector healthcare workers, and specific cohorts beyond the public sector as follows:
Private sector nursing homes and hospices;
Eligible staff working on-site in Section 39 long-term residential care facilities for people with disabilities;
Agency roles working in the HSE;
Health Care Support Assistants (also known as home help / home care / home support) contracted to the HSE.
The above-mentioned cohorts are the only ones covered for this payment. It was tough to draw a line on this matter, but the Government based its decision on the risks which eligible frontline workers faced, following careful consideration and consultation, including with the Labour-Employer Economic Forum.
The Government has expressed sincere gratitude to all healthcare workers for their efforts during what has been a challenging period for our health services. The Government appreciates that those organisations and staff who are not encompassed for this particular payment may feel disappointed. The Department has no plans to research the number of individuals who fall outside the scope of the payment, particularly given that the rollout of this once-off payment is nearing completion.
While undoubtedly immense efforts have been made by other healthcare staff since the onset of this pandemic, it is right that the Government pursue this course to recognise those at greatest risk in the performance of their duties throughout the pandemic, including those who worked in the very acutely affected environments above.
The Government notes that some private sector healthcare employers have already recognised their frontline workers for their extraordinary efforts during the pandemic. I would encourage those other private sector healthcare employers who have not done so to adopt appropriate measures to recognise their employees.
In recognition of the efforts of all workers, volunteers, and the general public during the COVID-19 pandemic, and in remembrance of people who lost their lives due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government announced a public holiday which took place on 18 March 2022. From February this year there will also be a new permanent public holiday established to mark Imbolc/St Brigid’s Day.
Regarding appeals from ineligible staff within otherwise-covered organisations, these are a matter for individual employers and their HR departments / staff. Employees who wish to dispute their employer’s decision around their eligibility should seek information from their employers on the grievance or appeals process open to them. If employers have outstanding queries regarding implementation of the payment, they can use the contact information provided in the information pack they have received.
It is important to understand that the HSE and the Department of Health cannot themselves administer, or impose, any central one-size-fits-all appeals process for all of these organisations. There are a number of reasons for this, including:
Many hundreds of varied organisations are involved (estimated at more than 800 covered organisations);
The staff concerned are not HSE staff, so the HSE does not set their terms & conditions of employment or employment relationships. This also means the HSE cannot properly access the level of information/data required from the many organisations’ staff records in order to gather or verify appeal information;
Finally, I would like to thank all healthcare workers for their extraordinary efforts during the COVID-19 pandemic.