The Malta Independent 25 October 2020, Sunday

Indepth: Health authorities' guidance must be followed in next phase of facing virus – UHM CEO

INDEPTH online Friday, 1 May 2020, 09:00 Last update: about 7 months ago

The guidance of health authorities is key in the next phase of facing Covid-19, UHM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella said on the latest episode of Indepth.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent Deputy Editor in Chief Neil Camilleri, Vella noted that the next phase is not, as many are saying, the post-Covid phase, but rather it is the second phase of facing Covid-19.

Vella was asked for his view on how the economic situation in the country will develop in the coming months, especially after unemployment levels were shown to have risen quite drastically in the month of March.

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Vella said that it is best to speak about what is happening in the present, and noted that the increase in unemployment has been, compared to the past where unemployment has consistently decreased, considerable and serves as a "strong signal" of what may come.

"Up to now, we still aren't in a situation of crisis or disaster, but the question now is on how many months this situation will persist and what packages are going to come out to help employers keep workers in their jobs", Vella said.

He said that he had explained to the MCESD, where Malta's social partners and constituted bodies meet, that there is the need for two strategies. 

The first is to analyse whether the measures which the government implemented, especially with regards to its wage supplement scheme were effective enough and to make sure that the benefits of the package reach those entitled to them because if the country moves onto the next phase with a lot of casualties then it will face a bigger hit when moving into the next phase.

"We are in a situation where the next phase cannot be called a post-Covid phase.  It is a second phase of Covid - was have passed the first phase and the numbers are declining, but it doesn't mean that we have eradicated Covid from Malta, which is why we cannot speak of a post-Covid phase yet", he said.

"Since we are in this phase, we need to be wise enough to speak to health authorities, whom I thank for their guidance so far, to guide us further in how we can reduce measures, when we can, and based on what plan so that we can avoid a situation like in other countries where they may think that they have beaten Covid but then find themselves having to start over", he added.

He said that this is the time for health authorities to guide us into this second phase and for social partners to keep discussing the next package for this period as well to ensure that employers are continually helped to keep their employees in their jobs.

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UHM - Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella has appealed to the government to cancel controversial contracts such as that with Steward Healthcare and divert the money that they would be paying as part of this contract to Maltese communities.

Interviewed by The Malta Independent Deputy Editor in Chief Neil Camilleri on the latest episode of Indepth, Vella said that this money can be used to aid Maltese families by cutting their water and electricity bills along with fuel prices.

Vella was asked whether the government should look into making water, electricity, and fuel cheaper - something which, in the latter case, the UHM has already done for its members through an agreement with Cassar Fuels Limited.

"In life I have learned never to say 'no this cannot be done'. The moment you say that, you are adopting a defeatist attitude - you are telling yourself that things cannot be fixed", Vella said.

He said that the UHM had already lodged a request within the MCESD for the revision of fuel prices some months ago, but they "haven't seen any signals from the government to indicate that it is open to such a proposal."

He said that one of his critiques of the government is that it has tied its hands on a national level because of certain contracts it has signed - contracts such as that with Electrogas for the power station and with Vitals Global Healthcare, and now Steward Healthcare for the sale of three hospitals.

"These are all contracts which the government is being weighed down by and which is not leaving it free to decide when to reduce electricity bills and by how much to reduce them", he said.

"We know that these contracts are costing us millions every year, so I must once again appeal to the government to see which contracts, such as the Steward contract, it can untie itself from, and to do so.  That money - that €70 million per year which is going to Steward can instead be used for our society and communities", he said.

He noted that because of the situation brought about by Covid-19, many workers are facing a cut in their income - be it in their base salary or in other allowances such as commissions and over-time, or even in both. However, he said, they are also now always at home - therefore increasing consumption of water, electricity, and essentials such as food, which in turn increases their expenses.

"Families have less income, but they are going to face more expensive bills", he said.

"So my appeal is that, like the UHM managed to arrange a discount on fuel for its members, the government should follow this example and do something similar for the community", he added.

 

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