Malta’s nurse union head Paul Pace has opened up on the months-long struggle that culminated in drastic industrial action, which saw patients denied flu shots.
“It didn’t need to reach this stage,” Pace told Lovin Malta, shortly after Heath Minister Chris Fearne announced that the dispute has been solved. “We registered our dispute four months ago, we’ve been on industrial action for the past month and we told the government that we were ready to escalate our action to the point of not administering the flu shot.”
“We didn’t just wake up one fine day and decide to stop administering the vaccine. The government could have easily prevented this situation, so why did it have to reach this stage?”
— Chris Fearne (@chrisfearne) October 12, 2020
This dispute resolved around two work-related issues – the right of primary healthcare nurses to upgrade their meal allowance in line with other nurses and the right of nurses to receive 12 hours of extra leave as per their shift hours when public holidays fall on a weekend.
Pace said the Heath Ministry agreed with the union’s stance but never implemented it despite several reminders and the gradual escalation of industrial action.
It was only when the MUMN ordered its members not to administer flu jabs that an agreement was finally reached on both issues.
“The impression out there is that we’re hurting patients but negotiations have been dragging on for months, and the government knew our requests were justified but never implemented them until we hurt patients through directives. Did it have to get to this stage?”
Pace recounted how he encountered this similar attitude earlier this year, when the MUMN registered two other disputes – one over how nurses who get infected with COVID-19 should qualify for injury on duty rather than use up their sick leave and the second over the rights of nurses in quarantine to keep their Sunday allowance.
“We’re talking about basic rights here. The government keeps telling you yes, yes, yes, you’re right, but then their promises never materialise until we order industrial action.”
“Meanwhile, other unions don’t get their hands dirty but their members also benefit from the rights we achieve for our union.”
“People then criticise the MUMN, accuse us of being Nationalists or a one-person union, but this wasn’t political. This country is always thinking of politics, but this has nothing to do with politics. Unfortunately, in Malta you have to bruise people, take the flak and have people call you names to get things done.”
What do you make of Paul Pace’s assessment?