The Malta Independent 21 September 2018, Friday

Industrial action at Aġenzija Sapport ongoing after deadlock in talks for collective agreement

Albert Galea Monday, 10 September 2018, 17:45 Last update: about 10 days ago

Industrial action is currently ongoing at Aġenzija Sapport after a deadlock in talks between the Unjoni Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UĦM) and the government over a new collective agreement.

As per the directives issued by the UĦM, care workers, social workers and occupational therapists have been instructed not to communicate with clients, not to compile reports, and not to attend meetings. The workers were also ordered not to attend any appointments with clients. 

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The directives came into force on Monday, and The Malta Independent received reports from families who utilise Aġenzija Sapport’s services saying that the van that usually transports one of their family members to a day centre simply did not appear, and it was only after phoning the family member’s tutor that they were informed of the strike.

The union said that the industrial action was as a result of a deadlock in talks over a new collective agreement, and warned that unless progress was made the matter would escalate further.  The previous collective agreement had expired in 2016.

Aġenzija Sapport operates 12 centres across Malta and Gozo for people with disability, and it offers day services along with referrals and assessments to those who suffer from mental or physical health impairments.

Their aim is to help the development of people with disability whilst also providing support to the relatives of these people so that they could continue to live within the community and not be institutionalised.

 

Parliamentary Secretary: UĦM’s directives are ‘disproportionate’ and ‘excessive’

The Parliamentary Secretariat for Persons with Disability and Active Ageing, which is led by Anthony Agius Decelis, called the directives taken by the UĦM ‘disproportionate’ and ‘excessive’, especially in light of the fact that the union itself had already agreed to raises in both the workers’ basic salary and their number of allowances.

The secretariat said in a statement that the UĦM was arguing that a small amount of workers, around 12 in fact, who are working in the field based on their experience should be given a higher pay grade.

Granting such a raise would be ‘regressive’ and could lead to disputes amongst workers, especially those who have qualifications, the statement noted.

The Parliamentary Secretariat entered into discussions with the UĦM in the previous hours, and tried to reach a compromise on the matter, one which was refused by the union, the statement said.

The secretariat noted that these directives were affecting around 480 persons with disability and that because of them; these people were not gaining the care and treatment that they required.  This was also causing a certain element of worry amongst the relatives of these same people. 

Both the secretariat and Agenzija Sapport called on the UĦM to allow ‘good will’ and ‘common sense’ to reign and to lift the directives which, the statement noted, were put forward because of just 12 people. 

They said that the union should lift the directives and hence the suffering of these persons with disability, and move towards signing the collective agreement as it is practically agreed upon and will benefit hundreds of workers at Agenzija Sapport, including the 12 that the UĦM is still remonstrating over.

 

National Parents Society for Persons with Disability lashes out at ‘despicable’ industrial action

The National Parents Society for Persons with Disability (NPSPD) meanwhile lashed out at what they described as a ‘despicable’ decision and one that greatly affects ‘the quality of life and the basic needs of those most vulnerable in our society.’

The NPSPD said that the directives ensured that it was these people who were most affected as workers had been told to report for work but to have absolutely no communication or contact with any of their clients.

They said that persons with disability were being ‘targeted’ by this industrial action, especially persons who frequent the day centres who have multiple disabilities and intellectual impairments that hinder them from ever seeking employment; persons with disabilities in residential homes who would have had to miss out on long-awaited appointments and even on home-made food; persons with challenging conditions who cannot afford to have their routine changed without proper transition and preparation, and others.

The society also lamented the fact that nobody was informed about the directives and as a result, many were left stranded waiting for transport which was never to arrive on Monday morning.

The NPSPD condemned the directives, saying that they were taken by ‘persons who do not understand the consequences of their actions’, and made note that no details as to what is being disputed in the collective agreement is forthcoming either.

The NPSPD recommended that any discussions being held should also involve all the stakeholders including the services users and their families. 

They called upon all entities and authorities involved to ensure that an immediate solution is found so to avoid leaving persons with disabilities and their families in such desperate situations.

The society said that families and persons with disabilities are aware that the excellent work carried by the majority of the workers at Agenzija Sapport is to be commended and should be rewarded accordingly, but they said that it is also the case that there should be other ways of achieving one’s goals without having to cause so much pain and hardship.  They said that the reality was that this was the true effect of such industrial actions. 

 

CPRD statement

The Commission for Rights of Persons with Disability said the wellbeing of 500 disabled people should not be used as a chess piece in industrial actions.

It said the directives put in place by UĦM Voice of the Workers have effectively stopped the important work done by Aġenzija Sapport for disabled people and their families.

 

The CPRD hoped that a solution would be found. 

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