Hundreds of home helps have attended SIPTU-organised meetings across the country to discuss the impact of new HSE contracts that come into force for the service next year. SIPTU Organiser Miriam Hamilton told Liberty: “These new contracts are a step in the right direction in that they give HSE home helps security and protection for the first time. “It also puts them in a stronger position to reclaim the servicefrom creeping privatisation.” The new contracts were secured in a Labour Court recommendation issued in September following a SIPTU lobbying and protest campaign demanding greater job security for the country’s 10,000 HSE home helps. In meetings held in most counties, home helps have been briefed on what the new contracts will mean to them. Carmel Bannon, a SIPTU shop steward and home help in Offaly, said: “Whatever hours you have worked from October 2011 to March 2012, you will now be guaranteed 80% of these under the conditions of the new contract. “Currently, my contract is for 30 hours but if a client goes into respite care or something else occurs, I will no longer be paid forthe hours I was assisting that client. It means that you never know what you will be earning. “With the new contracts I will know what income I am bringingin. Financially, this is a lot better. I have a child in college in Carlow and I’m receiving no financial assistanceto help with this. “My partner is self-employed and is not very busy at the moment, so it is very important that I know what I’m going to earn every two weeks in order to meet mortgage payments and other expenses. ”The other major issue addressed by the new contract is the HSE’s use of private, ‘for-profit’ care companies. HSE figures show that funding to private care companies increased from €2.3 million in 2007 to €40 million in 2012, an increaseof 1,639%. “What is the point in the HSEsending home helps to do courses if they are handing the hours overto the agency staff who cost moreand may be less well trained?” asked Carmel. Under the new contract process the HSE must initially offer care hours to directly-employed home helps before considering the use of private agencies.