It’s one of the nation’s busiest hospitals, leading the way in the treatment of brain trauma injuries and with thousands of patients being cared for by its inpatient and outpatient services.

However, Beaumont Hospital in Dublin could not do any of this without the more than 800 SIPTU members that comprise over 40% of its staff.

We met with three of the union’s activists in Beaumont to find out about the work they do and their concerns, as they seek to ensure the hospital remains one of the country’s leading healthcare institutions.

Bernard McDonnell has worked in the catering department for 27 years.

For 25 of these he has also assisted more than 100 union members in his section as a SIPTU shop steward. “I’m also a team leader for training new staff”, he said.

“It is a vital role within the hospital to train in new staff. Some people coming from the private sector can be overwhelmed coming into a hospital setting.”

On the major changes he has seen over his nearly three decades in the hospital, Bernard said; “There is now much more legislation governing our work than when I began. The temperature of every meal has to be recorded, as well as where it goes and who ate it. This system came in about 15 years ago in order to protect patients from problems such as salmonella outbreaks.”

The 120-person porter section is represented by Eoghan Costello. At 28, he is one of the youngest shop stewards in the hospital. “I’ve been a shop steward for about a year. I picked it up because for a few months we didn’t have a shop steward and management was taking advantage of that, so that is why myself and some colleagues stepped up.”

He added: “We encourage people to be members of the union and the vast majority see the benefits. We have many migrant worker members from Russia to Hungary to the Philippines. Many do not join the union straight away; some feel afraid to speak up.

However, after about a year, most see the benefits and sign up.”

Rachael Byrne is a chef and has worked in Beaumont for 27 years. She served as a shop steward for most of that period. However, a recent promotion has seen her remain an active SIPTU member but step down from her representative role.

“We certainly need more staff. While the numbers treated and working in the hospital have grown, we’ve not seen anything near a corresponding rise in the number of chefs”, she said. Another change has been the greater demand for Halal diets for both staff and patients. “The union has had successes in getting chefs’ properly recognised when we became graded as craft workers. Chefs do go to college and get qualifications so it was only fair that we achieved this change.” She added:

“However, the lack of numbers and the continued need for satisfactory pay increases would be the main issues. For shop stewards, there is also an issue about the lack of time allotted for our duties representing workers which has got progressively worse.” Other challenges highlighted by the SIPTU activists included a lack of protection for their rostered shifts. “Even if you have been on the same shift for 25 years, you have management changing them without consultation”, said Eoghan.

Bernard and Rachael highlighted the constant threat of outsourcing, which has been largely staved off in Beaumont due to the protections included in recent public pay agreements. Bernard also spoke of problems around the job evaluation process.

“Management had interpreted it as a licence to change work practices, saying that you’ve had your job evaluation and now you have to carry out the extra duties that you may have described in your evaluation but were not actually meant to be doing”, he said.

Pictured above: SIPTU Shop Stewards Bernard McDonnell and Eoghan Costello. 

Pictured: SIPTU shop steward and chef, Rachael Byrne.