• MUMN says the government made a U-turn when it referred its industrial dispute to conciliation. It also lists government proposals and explains why they are not enough.
  • The Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists says more than 80 gynaecological surgical procedures have been cancelled. Most were meant to investigate symptoms that might be suggestive of cancer.
  • The Ministry of Health demands a stop to industrial action and says it will act to safeguard patient care. It says it offered the best ever pay and working conditions to nurses and current actions cannot be justified.

Updated 10.03 with government statement, 1.10pm with minister's comments.

The MUMN nurses union has called on the government to confirm its final proposals in pay talks and not hide behind conciliation meetings, as increasing numbers of hospital procedures are cancelled.

The union was reacting to a Ministry of Health statement on Tuesday that it had decided to refer an ongoing industrial dispute to conciliation, in line with the collective agreement.

The directives issued by the MUMN have raised concerns by other healthcare professions, particularly in view of the risks to patients from delayed surgeries.

The MUMN said on Wednesday that the government's decision to go for conciliation was perplexing and a U-turn.

Just last Thursday, it said, the government's representatives had told it that they were ready to discuss the sectorial agreement at Cabinet level so as to seek additional funding.

"After analysing the Health Ministry press release, it is crystal clear that a U-turn was made by the government and instead of going to cabinet, (it has) decided to go to a conciliation meeting which has no authority to seek additional funding as promised by the Health officials in our last meeting," the union said.

It insisted that going to conciliation was uncalled for since it had always attended meetings called by the government and it was still awaiting further meetings promised by the government with further proposals.

Row over salary, allowances

The union expressed its disagreement with government proposals at the last meeting on Thursday.

Those proposals, it said, still placed nurses and midwives at the lowest salary scale among the health professionals in Malta, let alone those abroad.

Nurses and midwives were still expected to work on a 46.6-hour week (flat rate) and not on a 40-hour week as the rest of the civil service.

Nurses and midwives would also still have their allowances deducted when they were on sick leave.

Furthermore, nurses and midwives were still being denied the promised Covid allowance and other allowances.

While the salary of most civil servants with a degree commenced at scale 9  nurses and midwives with a degree would still start off at scale 10, the union added.

It said its proposals about tax incentives and pension schemes had been ignored. 

Ready to suspend action

The union said it had been ready to suspend all its directives when the government side proposed to take proposals to cabinet level. It would then have asked its members to vote on the government's proposals and decide what action they deemed fit.

But the government's decision to go for conciliation would lead to another "useless” meeting whose only purpose was to stop the union members from fighting for their rights. 

 If Thursday's proposals were not the final ones by the government, the union said the final proposals should be sent to it as soon as possible for a vote by its members. 

"It is now time to terminate the numerous meetings and for the Government to show its true colours by confirming its final proposals to all nurses and midwives. The government should stop beating around the bush and not hide behind any conciliator," it said.  

80 gynaecological procedures cancelled

In a separate statement on Wednesday, the Malta College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists said it was concerned about the prevailing situation at Mater Dei Hospital.

"We feel that the impact of these industrial actions on patient care and safety is dangerous," the college said.

"So far, more than 80 gynaecological surgical procedures have been cancelled. Most of these operations were scheduled to investigate symptoms that might be suggestive of cancer."

It explained that following the COVID-19 pandemic and the cancellations of surgical procedures during that period, theatre time was already very limited and such a directive was detrimental to patients’ safety.

The college urged both parties involved to work towards an urgent solution for the benefit of all, most especially the patients.

Health Ministry: Industrial action unjustified, patient care will be safeguarded

The Health Ministry said later on Wednesday that it would not tolerate harm caused to patients by directives issued by the MUMN and industrial action which did not fall within the parameters of the law carried consequences.

Reacting to an earlier statement by the trade union, the ministry said that at the talks with the union it offered the best ever working conditions and pay for nurses, but everything was being jeopardised by the current actions. 

The ministry said 13 meetings about a new sectoral agreement had been held with the MUMN in the past nine months and it had made several concrete proposals to substantially improve nurses income and working conditions. 

It described the MUMN industrial actions as unjustified, adding that the MUMN statements did not reflect the truth about what was offered at the negotiating table.

This, it insisted, was the time to stop the industrial actions for the patients to be given the care and treatment they deserved.

"The government will take all necessary steps to guarantee this, particularly in view of the favourable proposals made to the nurses and the fact that there is no legitimate basis or the actions to continue."

It urged the MUMN to act responsibly and attend the conciliation meetings, since this was a mechanism agreed with the unions when the collective agreement for the public service was reached.

Health Minister Chris Fearne also spoke about the dispute on One Radio, urging the union to turn up at the conciliation meetings for talks until a deal was struck.

He also insisted that patients' health should not come in the ‘middle’ of discussions with the government and unions and industrial action should be called off.

He said that after the government submitted proposals last Thursday, the union replied with its own this week.

 “They said these are our conditions and that they will not meet us unless we take them on,” he said.

“This is not how negotiations work,” he added. 

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