National Advocacy Service in talks to secure funding for pay rises to avoid strike by staff this week

Service says industrial action, planned for Wednesday, is likely to have an immediate impact on clients with disabilities

The National Advocacy Service for People with Disabilities (NAS) has said it is in talks aimed at securing the funding required for pay increases that would avoid a strike by its staff on Wednesday.

The agency, its primary funder, the Citizens Advice Board (CIB) and the Department of Social Protection all expressed the hope the talks might allow for a deferral or cancellation of the strike action but NAS also said it accepts the claim being pursued is “valid” and it “stands with our employees in their pursuit of equitable wages”.

About 50 staff at the organisation are set to strike in a dispute over pay and gradings that has its root in the establishment of the organisation separate to the CIB more than a decade ago.

Staff say they were given inferior terms, grade structures and conditions when NAS was established as a separate entity and have not had a pay rise since.

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The organisation’s advocates provide independent advice and representation to people with disabilities in their dealings with official bodies, often with a view to securing or protecting entitlements or services. NAS says the strike is likely to have an immediate impact on clients.

The Labour Court recommended in January that management make a case for the funding required to provide pay increases. In common with a number of charities and NGOs providing healthcare services on behalf of the HSE, NAS says it recognises the case being made for increasing pay as valid but is not any position to improve rates without its funding being adjusted accordingly.

Siptu deputy general secretary John King said the staff had only voted to strike because they had been “left with no other avenue to advance their claim for a fair pay rise”.

Suzy Byrne, a NAS staff member and Siptu activist, said the total cost of the improvements to pay and terms sought was in the “hundreds of thousands” but are vital for the organisation to be able to recruit and retain the staff it needs to provide a service vital to users.

“The workload has increased hugely and we are losing staff to other organisations where they can secure better pay,” she said. “Even people with a lot of experience here can take entry level jobs elsewhere and be better off. It’s making it impossible to keep people,” she said.

“Nobody here has any experience of a strike, nobody wants to do it, but we don’t feel we have any choice at this stage.”

In a statement, NAS itself said the strike is likely to cause disruption to services and it is making efforts to minimise the impact involved.

“The decision to strike is never taken lightly,” it said, “and it reflects the deep concerns of our workforce regarding pay parity. As an advocacy organisation, we place an emphasis on upholding rights and ensuring fair and equitable treatment of people and such fair and equitable treatment must be extended to our employees.

“We therefore fully acknowledge the validity of these pay claims and stand with our employees in their pursuit of equitable wages.

“There has been no increase in staff salaries and no cost-of-living payment for NAS staff since 2010, when pay conditions were first set out. NAS wages are set by our funder, the Citizens Information Board, who receive their funding from the Department of Social Protection.”

It said it is talks with its funder, the CIB, about obtaining the money required “to try to reach a fair and amicable resolution that honours the Labour Court recommendations to ensure the sustainability of our service”.

In a statement, the CIB said it had been informed by NAS of industrial action scheduled for Wednesday. “CIB has engaged with the board of NAS to propose a process to progress the matter. It is our understanding that industrial action is still planned from tomorrow, however, the process proposed remains available to the parties. We would encourage all parties to actively engage in the process.”

The Department of Social Protection also said it was aware of the impending strike action and of attempts to address the issues behind it.

“The Minister would ask all the parties to refrain from action that would affect service users pending the outcome of these discussions,” it said.

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