Care workers on the books of a contractor servicing the Gozo General Hospital who get infected with COVID-19 while carrying their duties, are not getting the same benefits enjoyed by their colleagues.

It transpires that during the quarantine period these employees are not getting paid the Sunday and public holiday premium, unlike care workers  on government’s books and those employed by contractors servicing State hospitals in Malta.

Faced by complaints from aggrieved care workers, the contractor servicing the Gozo General Hospital expressed its no objection to rectify the situation as long as the additional costs would be covered by Steward Health Care which runs this facility.  Such practice would be in line with the arrangement in State hospitals in Malta.

However, when UHM Voice of the Workers sought redress on behalf of these care workers and in line with the principle of equal pay for equal work, Steward Health Care refused to address this situation.

“We fail to understand why we are being treated differently not only from colleagues on government’s books with whom we share our duties at the same workplace treating the same patients, but also from care workers employed by contractors in Malta servicing state hospitals. As front liners in the fight against COVID-19 the last thing we expect is to be punished for being exposed to the virus at work,” care workers told Voice of the Workers Weekly.

The issue bears a resemblance to a major industrial dispute also involving Steward over the employment conditions it offers to its own staff. Following their takeover of three State hospitals – Gozo, Karin Grech and St Luke’s – as part of a controversial concession agreement signed with the government in 2016, the US company had recruited employees to work alongside workers on State book, albeit with inferior working conditions.

The discrepancy in payments, benefits and allowances fuelled complaints of discrimination and precarious employment. Following weeks of industrial action by UHM, the government last November had accepted in principle to absorb Steward employees and assimilate them within the civil service salary scale. Though it had given its word to complete this process by the end of the year, this deadline was missed, prompting the UHM to resort to fresh industrial action.

How is it possible that Steward has no funds to pay these employees despite having received millions from government?