Threat Of 999 Disruption As Paramedics Vote For Action

A total of 1,200 ambulance staff employed by the Health Service Executive (HSE) have voted for industrial action which could affect 999 services all over the country.

However, their trade union, SIPTU, said they will provide emergency cover in the event of any action, as is required by a staff code of practice.

The workers voted overwhelmingly for industrial action in a ballot, the result of which was released yesterday.

Senior official Matt Merrigan said no action will take place for at least a month as the trade union is not meeting for two weeks to discuss the outcome of the ballot.

If it decides to go ahead with action, it must give three weeks strike notice.

The ambulance workers are in dispute over the feared privatisation of the paramedic sector. They fear a complete privatisation of the sector following the HSE’s decision to privatise a number of ambulance services over Christmas.

The union claims the HSE awarded contracts in December 2007 to three private ambulance providers for work which would normally be conducted in-house by SIPTU paramedics.

They accused it of going “behind their backs” by advertising the contracts on the e-tenders website. They say any outsourcing proposal must be subject to proper consultation and negotiation.

The HSE yesterday moved to appease the workers and said any suggestion that it intended to privatise the national ambulance service is “mischievous and untrue”.

It “reaffirmed its commitment to the development and expansion of the service”.

It said the total work of the private companies it employs represents less than 4pc of the service’s total budget and relates mainly to moving patients.

It noted the employment of private contractors had existed under the former health board regime and it recently issued tenders for similar work simply to continue that arrangement.

The HSE said it is willing to continue discussions with the trade union about the dispute.