Front liners left waiting in the cold
More resources to cope with their ever-increasing duties, improved work conditions, and incentives to attract highly qualified personnel are the key demands which environmental health officers have been requesting to the government for the last three years.
However, despite being among Malta’s front-liners in the battle against the pandemic, government has been dragging its feet on the matter with no progress registered.
The Malta Environmental Health Officers Association (MEHOA) and the UHM Voice of the Workers’ are working together to secure these resources. In fact, some of these changes are being piloted as part of a new collective agreement being negotiated by UHM Voice of the Workers. MEHOA is insisting that this profession is given the recognition it deserves. Environmental health officers form part of the Superintendence of Public Health, comprising around 100 employees, the majority of whom are members of the Association.
‘New duties without any compensation and consultation’
Since the start of the Covid-19 outbreak, environmental health officers have taken a prominent role as they were entrusted with all mitigation measures including but not limited to quarantine and contact checks, adherence to protocols issued by the Superintendence, checking of passenger documentation in amber flights and adherence to all legal notices being issued.
However, their duties also include healthy lifestyle regulation in schools and other functions which do not fall under their remit. Yet, they are obliged to do as a result of a new law – the Coordination of Government Inspections Act.
This has prompted complaints from the association that new duties were being imposed on environmental health officers without any compensation and consultation.
More resources required
MEHOA is requesting better resources including a proper IT system. The Association is also lobbying for a fully accredited laboratory facility, calibrated equipment, other ‘new’ equipment such as drones, rapid test kits, and training as demanded by EU regulations.
Moreover, existing vacancies should be filled to alleviate administrative burdens and allow more focus on core duties.
The Association has also expressed its disappointment that government is not promoting the role of environmental health offices, in a bid to attract new blood and highly qualified staff.
Now is the time to act
Prior to the outbreak of the pandemic, environmental health officers were on industrial action which was lifted as a sign of good will after government committed itself that any deal would be backdated. Though government has presented its counterproposals they fell short of the association’s demands.
UHM Voice of the Workers is once again calling on government for a breakthrough in these talks, to give what environmental health offices truly deserve.