UĦM orders industrial action

UĦM ordered social welfare service employees to cease all communication pending a pay agreement. Photo: Shutterstock

UĦM ordered social welfare service employees to cease all communication pending a pay agreement. Photo: Shutterstock

Social workers, psychologists and other social welfare service employees have been ordered to cease all communication pending an agreement over their pay.

The UĦM Voice of the Workers ordered this industrial action among its members within the Foundation for Social Welfare Services following a failure to agree on the negotiation of a new collective agreement.

Isabelle Farrugia of UĦM told this newspaper that discussions had come to a halt over the financial package.

The foundation is comprised of care agencies Appoġġ and Sedqa, and the majority of its 500 employees, which include social workers, psychologists, family therapists, counsellors, youth workers and clerical officers, are UĦM members.

Among other things, the social work profession is suffering a shortage, with these professionals seeking employment elsewhere because of emotional and mental burnout due to their work’s sensitivity and demands.

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

The union has been in discussion about the collective agreement for around a year, and the last it heard from the foundation’s CEO was on Friday.

The union ordered a series of directives as from yesterday – including the refusal to use means of communication (mobile phones, e-mails and letters) and to participate in multidisciplinary meetings. Such meetings bring together vulnerable clients and professionals such as social workers and psychologists.

The union also warned that it would escalate the directives pending developments over the collective agreement.

In November, social workers urged the government to improve their work conditions as it had done with teachers.

The Maltese Association of Social Workers told this newspaper that apart from better recognition of the profession through better pay and continuous training, social workers would also like to be more involved in consultation on legislation. Charlene Martin, who chairs the association, noted that social workers faced very difficult situations, including violence, from the very people they sought to help.

Social workers needed to be supported through continuous training, improved salaries and greater involvement in consultation about new services and laws related to the social sector, she told the Times of Malta.

Early in 2016, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses even lamented the shortage of social workers in public hospitals. That same year, the FSWS CEO warned MPs sitting on the Family Affairs Committee that too few people were interested in pursuing a career in social work.

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