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Updated: Legalised slavery for hospital care workers - PL spokesman

Video: Mark Zammit Cordina

(Adds government's reaction)

A number of care workers at government hospitals had conditions of work and pay that there were illegal and different to those enjoyed by other government employees, Labour MP Marie Louise Coleiro Preca said this morning.

Addressing a news conference, she said these care workers were employed with contractor Support Services Ltd, whose directors were Gejtu Bonnici and Philip Bonnici.

Dr Coleiro Preca said that these employees were paid €3.80 an hour and some were only paid for 10 hours for every 12 hours they worked.

A care worker at Mater Dei was paid €691.78 for 131 hours, including a bonus and two Sundays, which were paid at the rate of €7.45 an hour.

An employee who became pregnant was advised by the company to find another job because she did not have any maternity rights, Dr Coleiro Preca said.

"This is legalised slavery with the government's blessing," she said adding that even when attempts were made for the workers to join a union, the people involved were dismissed.

She challenged the minister to do something about the situation so as not to protect the people perpetrating the abuse.

Support Services Ltd has been given government contracts to supply care workers for Mater Dei, St Vincent de Paul and Karin Grech hospitals.

Dr Coleiro Preca insisted that these workers carried out similar work to social assistants employed directly by the government. They were expected to do the job of nursing aids whenever there was a shortage.

She also called on the Industrial Relations Department to be proactive and not wait for reports from workers to take action.

Dr Coleiro Preca said she found it hard to believed that the government did not know about this abuse.

In a reply to a parliamentary question this week, Parliamentary Secretary Chris Said had said government had not received any reports of abuse of employment conditions.

During the same press conference, Labour MP Michael Farrugia referred to the issue of Pakistani nurses employed with the government through the employment agency Chrism Services Ltd.

These nurses had signed contracts with the agency which stipulated that the agency's fee which ran into thousands of euros had to be deducted from their pay.

Dr Farrugia referred to the Health Ministry's denial that it had any link with the agency and insisted that at one point, either the nurses or Chrism must have approached the Health Department.

The minister had been asked specifically about this issue in July last year and in a reply given in September, the Health Minister had said that no arrangement for payment had been made with any agency.

The minister had also said that the nurses had applied directly with the government being their sole employer.

If the minister had misguided Parliament with his reply at the time, he should resign, Dr Farrugia said.

GOVERNMENT'S REACTION

The government said that the exploitation of workers was unacceptable  and it would not tolerate abuse for any reason.

Initiatives had been taken and inspections were carried out to ensure that employment conditions were safeguarded and employers were duty bound to offer the conditions as stipulated in the Employment and Industrial Relations Act.

Abuse, it said, can be reported on 2122 4245/6  e-mail [email protected]

On the 47 Pakistani nurses, it said that these had applied for a job in their personal capacity, and not through an agency, following a call issued on February 2, 2010.

Their job was exclusively regulated by the contract they had signed with the ministry individually and the government did not have any agreement with an agency on third parties about their recruitment.

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