Updated 3.30pm with Commissioner for Health statement

The nurses union accused the government of two weights, two measures on Monday, saying it had been told that there were no funds for pay increments that nurses deserved. 

"We are the ones who risked their lives during the Covid pandemic. We are the real victims of the Steward deal," Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses president Paul Pace said at a press conference. 

Speaking on the steps of the Auberge de Castille, Pace said it was "shameful" that the government was being stingy with nurses. 

"We were told there's no money to fund a sectoral agreement.  We prepared a document to avoid industrial action and spent months discussing it with the government. But they came back with two pages of insults," he said.

The union ordered industrial action last week and warned more was on the way unless the current stalemate was broken. 

Among directives for Mater Dei Hospital issued last week, nurses were told not to wash patients and refrain from clerical work. Nurses at care homes for the elderly were told not to answer any phone calls or handle paperwork. 

MUMN president Paul Pace speaking on Monday.

Pace said the union was asked by the government what the taxpayer would be getting in return for a raise for the nurses, and in what ways patients would be better off. 

The government, he said, was only using this metric with nurses,  because money was found for other unions representing doctors and allied health professionals. 

'The government is trying to turn public opinion against us'

"Steward took millions but these questions were not asked. The government is trying to turn public opinion against us but we are the ones working in inadequate hospitals," he said. 

He called for support from the public and the media as MUMN officials displayed a front page of Britain's Daily Mirror showing support for UK nurses during a December 2022 strike over pay.

He said that among the union's demands was that overtime would not be calculated at 35 per cent, once overtime in the private sector was charged at 10 per cent. 

Nurses work a 46-hour week but the six hours extra is at overtime rate. Shift allowance is a "laughable" €26 a month. 

On other issues, he said, the union was not against the introduction of palm readers but these must be used for everyone, including doctors and consultants, some of whom left by lunchtime to go to private work. 

"There's no respect, no flexibility and we are being humiliated," he said. 

On the Steward deal, which he described as a huge scandal that would have toppled governments abroad, Pace said he was shocked at Prime Minister Robert Abela's defence of the company in parliament. 

'Steward has been taking us for a ride for eight years'

"No one from Steward is ever at their hospitals. With or without them it's business as usual. We were always able to manage our hospitals. We don't even know how much they stole from us. What we know for sure is that they have been taking us for a ride for eight years but now there's no money for nurses," he said. 

Pace said the government used the courts several times against the union to stop its directives. "We are prepared for another court battle," he said.

He said there were 1,300 foreign nationals working in the health sector but there is still a shortage of over 500 nurses. Improved pay was needed not only to enable nurses to get by, but also to keep them in the profession, and to attract more. 

Health ombudsman calls for resolution 

The Commissioner for Health within the Office of the Ombudsman has called for a resolution to end the industrial action impacting the healthcare system.

In a statement, Commissioner Ray Galea encouraged the Health Ministry and the MUMN to work collaboratively towards a solution that respects the rights and well-being of healthcare professionals and patients.

Referring to sweeping directives across the country’s public hospitals and healthcare facilities, the commissioner said he recognised the fundamental right of healthcare professionals, including nurses and midwives, to engage in industrial action as a means to voice their grievances and seek a fair resolution.

However, he said it had to ensure that patients are not unduly affected by the action. “The welfare of individuals who rely on the Maltese healthcare system for essential care and support must be considered a top priority for all parties concerned. We call upon both parties to engage in open and constructive dialogue to resolve the issues involved,” he said.  

The commissioner said he was following the situation and offered to assist to facilitate prompt and fair resolution of disputes ensuring that the interests of all stakeholders are fairly represented.

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