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September 1, 2014

EWTD compensation move mooted

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George McNeice: ‘They know this living-out allowance isn’t obsolete’

IMO AGM 2012: The IMO is contemplating taking multiple cases to the Rights Commissioners seeking compensation over the HSE’s continued inability to implement the 48-hour week for NCHDs, writes Dara Gantly.

CEO George McNeice told Irish Medical Times that if there were a thousand cases to take, the union would organise a thousand NCHDs to take action under the European Working Time Directive (EWTD).

“Someone is going to have to force the HSE to take this thing seriously,” McNeice told IMT in an exclusive interview ahead of this week’s IMO AGM in Killarney.

A reasoned opinion sent by the European Commission to the Irish Government last September referred to a serious infringement of the EWTD, where NCHDs were regularly obliged to work continuous 36-hour shifts, to work more than 100 hours in a single week and 70-75 hours per week on average.

In its response to Brussels, the Government set out a time frame for achieving EWTD compliance over the next three years. It also blamed the IMO for frustrating efforts to implement the Directive.

The IMO has demanded that the Department retract these “patent inaccuracies”, and described the claim that it had instituted legal action to prevent the implementation of the Directive as “clearly nonsensical”.

“We have asked the Commission to meet with us before it makes any decision on granting any extension, although I think the Commission can’t grant another three years,” McNeice told IMT.

“But they need to understand that the HSE had the ability to comply all along.”

He added that even by the HSE’s own figures, 60 per cent of NCHDs’ remained non-compliant. “I wouldn’t even believe that figure,” questioned the CEO. “The figure to watch and ask about is, has the overtime bill come down significantly? You will find it has not, and that appears in the national newspaper — ironically leaked by the HSE to suggest NCHDs are making a fortune.”

Allowances

The IMO CEO also hit out at the threat to remove the €3,000 per annum living-out allowance, which is estimated to cost €8 million a year. The allowance is just one of the many paid to public servants each year, worth €1.5 billion, that are currently under review by the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform.

McNeice said the HSE attempted to remove the allowance three years ago, yet the Labour Court deemed that it should stay. “They know this allowance isn’t obsolete. They know that this issue has been dealt with by the Labour Court. Yet they are still trying to take it off NCHDs.

“They are not paying NCHDs for their overtime; they are not implementing the 48-hour week. And NCHDs can’t get proper training because the HSE won’t pay for it. So why would they work in this country? And why should the HSE, the Department or the Minister be surprised that people are leaving the country to work abroad?”