Unions will not endorse hospitals deal if not fully briefed

Unions will not endorse hospitals deal if not fully briefed

Will not sign any agreement unless they see contract

Three unions are warning that unless they are fully briefed about the takeover by a private investor of three State hospitals they will refuse to endorse the deal.

Union officials who spoke to this newspaper remarked that their members’ were being fed the same information while leaving serious concerns unaddressed.

“It’s basically more of the same. We have hundreds of workers who are unsure of what is in store for them and therefore they are very concerned,” Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin CEO Josef Vella said.

“We want to reassure our members but we have no information to give them. That is why we have said, time and again, that we will not be signing any form of agreement with the government before we have the contract in hand,” he added.

The same stand was taken by the Medical Association of Malta. “Unless the government publishes the contract with Vitalis, in turn, declaring who the true owners will be, the MAM will not come to any agreement with the government,” general secretary Martin Balzan said. He pointed out that the government had yet to clarify a number of crucial details about the deal, including where the money was coming from.

The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses is also asking for the conditions in writing prior to committing itself. “We will be meeting this week to discuss the situation because, as it stands, our members have no protection. We will be deciding whether to sign the agreement or not soon,” general secretary Colin Galea said.

In contrast, GWU general secretary Josef Bugeja said: “Feedback received by members has been positive as the main areas of concern, namely the retention of their government employee status and conditions, have been addressed. Plans for specialised training and opportunities for career progression are also being well received.”

In a series of hastily-arranged meetings over the last two days, the staff of St Luke’s and the Gozo General hospitals were addressed by the director of Vitalis Global Healthcare Group, Ram Tumuluri, who sought to allay their job fears. A meeting was held on Monday at the Gozo hospital and another three, each an hour long, took place yesterday.

Though they were told to “expect tower cranes in the coming days”, staff members complained that when dealing with bread and butter issues the replies given left much to be desired.

A Health Ministry spokeswoman said the transition plan and the investors’ role would be announced in the coming days while employees and unions would be kept informed throughout the process.

“Employees will be paid by the government but VGH will be reimbursing the government. VGH will be charging fees to foreign patients receiving care in the ‘medical tourism’ beds,” the spokeswoman said.

She noted that all capital expenditure - estimated at €220 million - including infrastructural works and acquisition of new equipment would be borne by the investor. The government would be covering the services offered to Maltese and Gozitan patients, which would remain free at the point of delivery.

The spokeswoman pointed out that Karin Grech Hospital too was covered by the agreement signed with the investors.

Healthcare industry sources doubted the assurances given by the investor who insisted workers would not be affected. “How it is possible for Mr Tumuluri to keep harping that everything will remain the same if we are dealing with a transfer of business,” the sources said.

Sources in the medical sector expressed concern that the investor might poach public healthcare staff in case the Vitalis Group failed to attract enough workers. “Poaching just 60 workers, including some new graduates, would be enough to stretch government hospitals and homes to the limit as they are already below the complement,” they warned.

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