Updated 7.55am with MAM reaction

The nurses’ union has issued a raft of directives across the entire health sector after the authorities refused to entertain a request for nurses to be given an uncapped two-thirds pension like consultants.

The health authorities also shot down the union’s request for nurses’ and midwives’ overtime to be taxed at 10 per cent, as is done with police officers.

An uncapped two-thirds pension was originally only afforded to members of the judiciary and members of parliament but consultants were also given this perk in a sectoral agreement signed earlier this year, according to the union.

But the Medical Assocation of Malta indicated that this is untrue. 

"Doctors have capped pensions like all other government employees," MAM head Martin Balzan said on Monday morning. 

MUMN serves notice of industrial action

In a letter to the permanent secretary at the health ministry, Joseph Chetcuti, the council of the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses gave notice of industrial action in all state hospitals and the largest home for the elderly, saying members went “from heroes to rubbish”.

Health workers had been hailed as heroes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The action, which starts today, was ordered after the union was notified by the office of the permanent secretary that all pension and tax incentives proposed by the union for discussion during talks on the new sectoral agreement will not be raised and all such incentives will be excluded from the agreement.

“The MUMN is declaring a dispute with the ministry for health and the ministry for active ageing and community care due to the fact that the health and safety issues on the nurses and midwives are not only being jeopardised but also seriously affecting their personal health.

“Staffing ratios are half those which have been agreed upon, not to mention that nurses are continuously being disciplined due to the shortage,” the council wrote.

The union ordered that no admissions are to take place in wards MW1, MW2, MW7, FW2, MW8B and the half-way house at Mount Carmel Hospital. No admissions will also not take place in all wards at Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital and St Vincent de Paul home for the elderly, including internal transfers, except of those residents transferred back from Mater Dei Hospital after treatment.

At the state hospital, the union ordered nurses working in operating theatres to stop for a break between midday and 2pm.

They were also ordered not to leave the ward to accompany patients unless the ratio is one nurse to five patients.

At the Gozo General Hospital, no admissions are to take place in the St Anna Ward, the long and the short stay wards.

Nurses at health centres were directed to limit drawing blood from a maximum of 50 patients daily. Wound dressing will be restricted to between 10am and 3pm.

“This is just the beginning. It is clear that there will be a hard and dirty road ahead if the MUMN is to achieve a satisfactory agreement. We all have to contribute, in all grades, since there is literally no one within the health division who has the interest of nurses and midwives at heart,” the council said in its letter.

It said the nurses’ and midwives’ sacrifices were not only being not appreciated but were being rendered irrelevant.

The nurses’ union has long been complaining about the shortage of nurses. In April, it called on the authorities to reduce the number of elective surgeries taking place because of the increasing pressure on medical staff.

It called the situation at the main state hospital “desperate”.

Ministry reacts

Meanwhile, the Health Ministry said it reserved the right at law to continue protecting patients from “disproportionate” industrial action ordered by the nurses’ union. In replies to questions, the ministry said it had invited the union for talks on the new sectoral agreement which expires in 18 months. 

“Unfortunately, MUMN has other ideas and keeps coming with different excuses not to engage in negotiations. Certain matters cannot form part of discussions in a sectoral agreement because these can only be effected through legislative interventions which go beyond the scope of such discussions, and which are subject to wider discussions in a different forum,” it said.

It said the union “immediately resorted to industrial actions which are inherently disproportionate, unjustified and seriously lacking in legitimacy, refusing even to attend conciliation meetings.”

The ministry said it reserved the right at law to its interests and, more importantly, those of the patients. As has been well established by the courts through various judgements, no action should prejudice patients’ safety and MUMN has been warned to inform its members that no industrial action should limit their duty of care towards patients.

“Government remains committed to open and honest constructive talks in the interests of all nurses and midwives. More crucially, the government remains committed to ensuring the highest degree of patient care and invites the union to de-escalate the matter and return to the negotiating table in the interests of all stakeholders,” the ministry said.

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