DOMESTIC staff at Letterkenny hospital say they feel “under-valued” after being ignored as part of a HSE job evaluation scheme.
The health authority has been carrying out a review of all roles and making recommendations around appropriate rates of pay and allowances.
But while almost all departments have been moved up a band, domestic and cleaning personnel have been told their status will remain as it was.
There are 113 housekeeping staff employed at Letterkenny hospital and they argue that during the pandemic they repeatedly went above and beyond their normal duties.
But documents seen by the Donegal News reveal how they are not in line for an improvement in pay and allowances while colleagues across a raft of other occupations are.
Among those in line for a band upgrade are caretakers, porters, speech therapists, security guards and mini-bus drivers. Some departments including hairdressers and beauticians as well as drivers for doctors-on-call will move up two pay grades.
Five areas – seamstresses, laundry workers, groundsmen, domestics and gardeners – will see no change in their pay packages.
Collette Neely has been a domestic worker at Letterkenny hospital for 27 years. She said it was deeply unfair that her role was being overlooked.
“We feel a terrible injustice has been done as we are an essential cog in the wheel for the hospital to function,” said Ms Neely.
“We are at the beginning, middle and end of every patient’s journey and during Covid we worked above and beyond our normal duties. We had to find the courage to come to work day after day so that patients were coming in to a safe and clean environment. We worked from 8am to 11pm a lot of nights as deep cleans had to be carried out on wards. And we still turned up for work the next morning to do it all over again.”
Her colleague, Lena Gallagher, has been part of the domestic staff at Letterkenny hospital for 23 years. She said morale had taken a blow following the job evaluation scheme.
“We are on the lowest pay grade in the hospital yet most departments moved up a band, some moved up two. Some of these never entered the hospital at all during Covid while the housekeeping department works 24/7 for 365 days of the year.”
Staff say the evaluation was flawed from the outset as it was based on the findings of ten hospitals nationwide. But only two of those were acute facilities, that is hospitals with over 300 beds.
Letterkenny’s workers have been in contact with colleagues across the state and say there is a united front in terms of asking the HSE to revisit its decision.
They have also written to President Michael D Higgins and politicians at all levels.
Collette Neely said that everyone who had been awarded a band upgrade deserved it. But so do domestic staff, she added.
“Through the pandemic we were there the whole time, making sure there was the highest standard of hygiene. There was double cleaning on as well as infection control, all so the highest standards were maintained.
“The hospital cannot function without us and all we are asking for is fairness and equality.”
Trade union SIPTU has written to the HSE requesting a meeting to discuss the issues raised. Lena Gallagher added that strike action was a last resort. She said she hoped the health body would “see sense” and “make a wrong right”.
“At this stage it is about the principle. How can they justify this decision when other groups who are not in the hospital 24/7 are being moved up one or two bands? It doesn’t make sense.”
A spokesperson for the HSE said the job evaluation process was a joint exercise with SIPTU using a pre-established format and that not all grades were recommended for an uplift.
They added, “No sanction has yet been received on the findings and therefore no circular has issued to effect payment to any staff member who are proposed to receive an increase, in any location across the country.
“Phase four of the job evaluation process for support staff looked at a significant number of grades across a number of categories, so there will be some categories that an increase has been recommended. As yet no final findings have issued.
“As the HSE has yet to receive the necessary sanction from the Department of Health or the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform, it cannot issue the HR circular to give effect payment to any staff member who are proposed to receive an increase, in any location across the country.”