The week-long industrial action by social welfare service employees would escalate if no progress was registered in collective agreement talks by next week, the Times of Malta was told.

The UĦM Voice of the Workers on Monday ordered members at the Foundation for Social Welfare Services to follow directives that included refusing to use means of communication and not to participate in multidisciplinary meetings.

These meetings bring together vulnerable clients and professionals such as social workers and psychologists.

The UĦM’s Isabelle Farrugia said the union last heard from the foundation last week and there had not been any developments since.

Majority of foundation’s 500 employees are UĦM members

She said workers were following the directives issued, which do not apply to emergency cases, and the industrial action was “effective”. Industrial action would escalate next week should the situation remain unchanged, Ms Farrugia warned.

Service users said they were worried with the industrial action though they appreciated the pressure social workers were under.

One user said she was concerned as, unlike the teachers’ strike, which would just see students get a day off at school, industrial action by social welfare service providers was “potentially dangerous” because of the vulnerability of service users.

“It feels as if social welfare service providers are often brushed aside, with issues swept under the carpet because people do not want to admit that this country has its fair share of vulnerable people, especially children,” she noted.

The Foundation for Social Welfare Services embraces care agencies Appoġġ and Sedqa, and the majority of its 500 employees, including social workers, psychologists, family therapists, counsellors, youth workers and clerical officers, are UĦM members.

Among other things, the social work profession is experiencing staff shortages, with the professionals seeking employment elsewhere citing emotional and mental burnout due to their work’s sensitivity and demands.

Apart from an attractive financial package for the foundation employees, the union is also calling for continuous professional development and a system that would allow them progression in the various grades.

The Maltese Association of Social Workers told the Times of Malta last year that, apart from better recognition of the profession through better pay and continuous training, social workers wanted to be more involved in consultation on legislation.

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