The recent agreement providing Steward Health Care workers the opportunity to benefit from the same working conditions as their colleagues on Government books is a historic step in the fight against precarious employment. This success rewards the efforts made by UĦM Voice of the Workers which for years harped on the fact that if Government truly believed in the principle of equal pay for equal work, it should be leading by example.

When the party in government was still in Opposition it had led a crusade against precarious employment while pledging it would take the bull by the horns. The last thing UĦM expects is for this party to create these situations itself when in government, in this case in State hospitals.

Unfortunately, however it seems that this commitment has faded. UĦM Voice of the Workers has nothing in principle against outsourcing certain jobs within State entities. However, such practice becomes highly questionable if core duties performed on a regular basis which are not seasonal are outsourced. The questions beckon – Why is government seeking this approach rather than engaging workers in the public sector? Is this being done to save money in the wake of the fact that it costs less to recruit through the contractor?

While precarious employment started off in jobs requiring basic skills such as cleansing and security, it is spreading to higher levels like the medical sector.

This is why UĦM resorted to industrial action at Steward Health Care as it could never accept that workers doing the same job as those employed by the Ministry of Health should have inferior conditions of work.

Apart from the salary, where the discrepancy with government employees over several years reached thousands of euros, Steward employees were also getting inferior treatment with respect to vacation leave, family-friendly measures, and allowances. Such discrimination was happening even though these employees were performing the same exact duties in the same wards, seeing the same patients, while wearing the same uniform.

Succeeding in this fight  was not easy neither for the workers nor for the union, as both the company and the Government seemed more interested to place the issue on the backburner in the hope the union would be disheartened. Nonetheless, UĦM persevered and reached its goal to ensure that Steward employees get what they deserve. This was not a matter of appeasing somebody, but a fight against workplace discrimination.

The fight against precarious employment is not over. Unfortunately, there are still complaints whereby private entities commissioned by the Government to provide certain services offer inferior conditions. UĦM will be at the forefront to address similar situations in other sectors to protect workers’ rights and their dignity. The goodwill shown by the Government in the case of Steward bodes well for the resolution of other pending issues before the situation to escalates.