SOLIDARITY Western Care workers on strike in Castlebar last week. Pic: Alison Laredo
Western Care workers plan more strike action over pay
“Western Care staff care for the most vulnerable in Mayo society yet they’ve been abandoned by our government.”
The words of Cllr Michael Kilcoyne highlight the frustration felt by hundreds of care workers who held a one-day strike last Thursday in an effort to gain their first pay rise in 14 years.
Kilcoyne warned that the situation is critical and the protest will escalate if the workers aren’t given the respect they deserve.
“This has been ongoing for years. The work done by Western Care staff is exactly the same as their counterparts in the HSE, yet they’re paid completely differently.
“The Government have continually ignored them, but the workers aren’t going to accept that any longer,” he added.
Up to 600 Fórsa and SIPTU union members took part in the strike at Western Care premises in Castlebar and Ballina. The protest was one of a series of strike actions nationally in care agencies across the community and voluntary sector.
Western Care provides services and supports to children and adults with intellectual disabilities and has up to 1,000 service users in the county.
“We do our jobs because we love our jobs, but we feel under-valued and ignored,” care assistant Michael Flanagan told The Mayo News from the picket line.
“We didn’t want it to get to this stage. We don’t want to be here striking but we’ve no other choice because the Government have refused to listen to us. Our counterparts in the public sector, the HSE, are receiving pay increases but we haven’t had a pay rise in 14 years. We’re here today to say we want pay parity with our counterparts in the HSE. It’s as simple as that.
“Our job is underpaid but we have stayed in these jobs because of the service users and the people we care for. The pay that we’re getting doesn’t match the hard work and effort we’re putting in and Western Care has a major problem with retention and attraction of staff.
“We’re outside Western Care Head Quarters in Castlebar right now but if we go a hundred yards up the road for a HSE job we’ll get paid more for doing the exact same tasks,” Mr Flanagan added.
General Election issue
His colleague Siobhan Barrett, a woman with 22 years service in Western Care, believes that the issue will have an impact on the next general election in Mayo. “There are nearly a 1,000 in Western Care and all of us have families and we feel very let down by our TDs. This is going on for almost four years and they’re simply not taking any heed of us. They just fob us off. The TDs have paid themselves another €1,000 this week yet they completely ignore those who are helping care for the most vulnerable in our society. We won’t forget and we’re not for turning this time. However, they forget that we and our families possess a big chunk of votes which we will gladly use at the next election,” Ms Barrett stated.
“If we had the same clout as builders, bankers or business moguls our pay claim would have been settled years ago. Governments fall over themselves to support these groups because of their lobbying clout but they ignore us because they think we have no power. They shouldn’t underestimate us,” she concluded.
Cllr Kilcoyne agreed with her and said there was only once place for blame to be attributed. “It’s simply the Government’s fault. They will have to pay these people properly whether they like it or not, so why can’t they just bite the bullet and do the right thing.”