Retention crisis: ‘We haven’t had a pay rise in 13 or 14 years’

Staff in community, disability and homeless services are seeking pay parity with public service colleagues

Workers at organisations funded by the Department of Health or HSE to deliver community, disability or homeless services say that having previously enjoyed pay parity with those in the public service, they have now fallen far behind.

The result, they say, is problems with recruitment and retention with a significant impact on staff workloads and morale. At the Fórsa Health and Welfare conference in Galway on Friday, three of those who have worked in the sector for many years talk about what they see as an ongoing injustice.

Deirdre Collins, Enable Ireland, Cork

I’m 31 years here in adult services in Cork and for the first 15 years of that, I had pay parity with colleagues in the public sector. So we were equally valued, equally appreciated. Then, of course, the emergency cuts came and when we challenged it, they said “well, you know you got the gain (the pay rises), so you have take the pain” so we accepted that.

When pay restoration was coming we assumed we’d get that too but they said “they’re not public servants, they’re not part of it”. In the end they did restore what they’d taken but that was it. We haven’t had a pay rise in 13 or 14 years.


Now I have colleagues who are in the same profession, they have the same responsibilities and the same challenge, we’re sitting at the same desks but they are being paid significantly more.

It’s just very demeaning, very demoralising. And it’s very unfair. The job has got more complex over the years, there’s more demanded but it’s hard not to feel your work is undervalued.

David Foley, social care worker, Galway homeless services

We’re funded but not fully funded like public service organisations. We provide essential services, frontline services on behalf of the Government and we’re funded through the HSE. But there’s a good chunk of funding too that comes through fundraising, and because of that our pay and conditions aren’t the same.

It’s very difficult to get people into the sector and then it’s very hard to keep them. What’s happening all the time is that people are leaving to take better paid jobs in the public service.

It’s been particularly challenging since Covid, the last two or three years. People have been going and it’s makes it harder to the deliver the services. It’s hard on the service users too, they have a right to see the same people over time but the workers don’t see it as a career they can stay in. I know I’d be happier to think of it as my career for life if the pay was better.

Helen Canning, Dublin 15, community drugs team

I’ve been working in one of the most disadvantaged areas in Dublin for the last 22 years. We’re funded by the HSE. We had a pay freeze in 2008 and we were asked to cut staff.

We got pay restoration over two years almost 12 years later but we’re not in line with the HSE any more, we don’t have parity.

I do a needle exchange with a HSE worker; we’re doing the very same job but I don’t have a pension, I have less weeks sick pay, I won’t get a lump sum and our funding could be withdrawn at any time. I’d be at least a couple of thousand [euro] a year better off and if I’d had that when my kids were younger I could have cut back my hours.

We’re just hoping that we get what we deserve now because this is inequality of the highest degree.

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone

Emmet Malone is Work Correspondent at The Irish Times