In 2015 when the hospital concessions agreement saw the light of day UHM Voice of the Workers sounded the alarm bells. Even in those early days when the union was briefed by the then Health Minister Konrad Mizzi who had piloted this ‘deal’, it was clear that there was much more to the eye than it could see. This is why in 2016 this union together with the doctors’ union had formally requested the Public Accounts Committee to investigate this concession. In doing so we had set the ball rolling for the comprehensive reports issued by the National Audit Office. It turned out that the NAO’s work would play a fundamental role in the recent court judgment by Mr Justice Francesco Depasquale who presided over the case instituted by former Opposition Leader Adrian Delia. The latter had sought to rescind this deal signed in 2016 with Vitals Global Health Care which transferred the concession to Steward Health care in 2018. In its decision the court ruled that the three State hospitals – St Luke’s, Karin Grech and Gozo General Hospital – should go back in government’s hands.

The nature of this rotten deal became clearer as time went by and important milestones were not being met such as the modernisation of St Luke’s and the new hospital in Gozo which never materialised. Yet, some chose to stick their hands in the sand and consent to the allocation of hundreds of millions with no accountability at all. Arguably, this was a textbook case of bad governance and a vivid example of the perils of placing personal gain above any other considerations. The end result, is that taxpayers have been robbed millions under the guise of what some had even described it as “the real deal”.  

UHM voice of the Workers has been vociferous against this deal on another level as well. It transpires that employees who were being recruited by Steward, were being treated like second-class citizens as they were being offered inferior conditions to those enjoyed by their colleagues who are on government’s books. In this case this was a textbook case of how to ride roughshod over the principle of equal pay for work of equal value. Steward employees treating the same patients in the same wards at Karin Grech Hospital were getting paid less than their colleagues.  Following a long-drawn battle UHM won the battle to transfer these employees to government books on condition they would be treated equally. There was another twist in the tale as it turned out that the government did not keep up its word and failed to stick to what it had promised in writing – ie that Steward employees would transfer their years of service. This was justified on the grounds that such move would be “unconstitutional” – a red herring from the same institutions which had not lifted a finger on the hospitals deal!

Consequently, these employees ended up having to start from the bottom of the scale as if they had never been employed before. At this stage UHM took government to court, which is seemingly becoming the only hope of seeking address even on the smallest matters. Were it not like this, the hospitals agreement would have been shot down immediately and would have never been signed in the first place or allow the perpetrators to syphon millions from Maltese taxpayers.

This is why UHM is bound to show its support to initiatives aimed to pile pressure for responsibility to be shouldered and bring back the hundreds of millions thrown down the drain already. Anything other than taking a decisive stand in such circumstances would be tantamount to consenting to this obscene concession and appeasing those behind shady corrupt deals. This is why all avenues to seek justice should be explored be it in court, through the media or taking the streets.