Ad-PHS project’s workshop in Ireland

On 30 May 2019, UNI Europa organised the national meeting of the ‘Advancing Personal and Household Services’ project in Drogheda, Ireland.

Divisional Organiser of SIPTU trade union’s Health Division Paul Bell opened up the meeting listing the factors supporting the growth and development of the PHS sector, the demographic changes that have contributed to the sector, the particular issues that women workers face, and the current challenges for unions in the Personal and Household Services sector in Ireland.

Due to the recount in the EU elections Matt Carthy MEP (Sinn Fein) was unable to participate but sent his regards to the meeting and commitment to home care workers and participate in a further meeting of the PHS project if desired.

In his opening, Dr. Mark Bergfeld, European Director UNICARE, summarised the European Commission’s agenda around long-term care and previous research on personal and household services, as well as gave Irish participants an overview of the project which they are contributing to. He remembered the contribution that numerous migrant domestic and care workers make to the economy and society and compared their situation to that of Irish domestic workers in Britain in the late 19th Century.

In the first roundtable discussion ‘The State of Play for Personal Household Services in Ireland’, Joseph Musgrave, the CEO of Home and Community Care Ireland demanded that that the Irish Health Services Executive ought to do more in terms of funding and accused that the tendering process was accelerating the race-to-the-bottom. This message from the employers received mixed responses from participants. One participant argued fiercely that employers also bear a responsibility in ensuring that their employees are remunerated adequately.

Aoife Smith, Social Enterprise and Care Coordinator at the Migrant Rights Centre of Ireland Migrant Rights Centre Ireland spoke about her organisation’s work and labour exploitation of migrant women workers in personal and household services, while her colleague Shane Liz Andaloc provided a first-hand account of working for a private provider as a migrant woman. Her testimony struck a chord with participants who recounted other stories of such cases.

P.J. Hartnett, National Programme Manager, Integrated Care Programme, HSE explained the model of integrated care that they are pursuing and pointed to some pilot projects of delivering care in the community.

Thus, the roundtable was able to provide an overview of the landscape of employees, the proliferation of undeclared work and the need for regularisation. Moreover, the first-hand account helped participants to think about new ways in which social partners could raise awareness about rights & obligations of workers and employers in the PHS sector

The networking lunch brought together different actors and stakeholders from Ireland’s PHS sector. This represented a good opportunity to discuss the challenges between employers, trade unions and the HSE in a relaxed environment.

The second Roundtable Discussion was titled ‘Collective Bargaining and the Professionalisation of Healthcare Support Assistants’. Ethel Buckley, SIPTU’s Deputy General Secretary ICTU – Organising & Membership Development and Michael Fitzgerald, HSE Head of Operations and Service Improvement, Services For Older People.

Discussants spoke about how to reach a higher professionalisation of jobs in the PHS sector, and the main instruments to promote the sector: Home Support Service (formerly the Home Care Package Scheme), Tax Credit for employing carers. Moreover, Ethel Buckley from SIPTU spoke about their work in ensuring that employees have access to collective bargaining, and their strategy of professionalising the PHS sector. Michael Fitzgerald meanwhile discussed how a more effective social dialogue in the PHS sector could be organised and how better cooperation between public authorities and key stakeholders at local, regional and national level could be achieved.

In the session ‘Building Social Dialogue and Social Partner capacity’ Aileen Courtney, Acting CEO, Cheshire Ireland, Sean McHugh, Chair of the National Review of Healthcare assistants, John Delamere, HSE Corporate Employee Relations and Michael Harty, Home Care Direct. Harty introduced his business model of a platform company which brings together home care workers and clients looking for additional services. Aileen Courtney assessed how a range of support services can be delivered to people with both physical and neurological conditions in their homes and in more institutional settings. The other two discussants assessed the rights and obligations of employers and employees.

In the closing session, Adrian Durtschi, UNI Global Union – UNICARE and Liam Berney, Industrial Officer of the Irish Congress of Trade Unions appealed to participants and stakeholders in the PHS sector that the professionalisation of the occupations is key to higher remuneration. Durtschi emphasised the successes of social dialogue in other countries and pointed to organising efforts of trade unions in Latin America and the United States. Participants committed themselves to using the network established as part of the PHS project as a means to establish further dialogues between all stakeholders.