The Malta Independent 30 May 2020, Saturday

Public service employees given 1 week to sign ‘obscure contract’ between ministry, servizz.gov

Karl Azzopardi Friday, 22 May 2020, 11:43 Last update: about 7 days ago

90 public service employees have been given one week to sign an obscure contract that was issued by the Ministry for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity and the online social service portal servizz.gov, UHM – Voice of the Workers Assistant Director Mario Sacco revealed.

But in reply to this, the government said it is entirely up to employees to take up the offer. (See right of reply below)

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The purpose of the contract is to loan employees from the ministry to assume responsibilities as service experts on social security matters at servizz.gov hubs.

Sacco told this newsroom that this contract was sent to these employees without the administration’s knowledge as he only got to know about it after concerns that employees raised about this contract which he referred to as “the first of its kind”.

“It is a strange contract in nature as one cannot even decipher if it is a work-oriented contract or not because the heading says that it is an ‘Agreement between servizz.gov and the Ministry for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity’,” he explained.

The contract is valid for one year with provision for extension subject to agreement of all the parties, but there is the option to cancel it after one month if any of parties agree on it.

However, the problem with this is that it remains unclear whether the employee is part of the agreement at all. Sacco explained that the way the signatures are placed is unusual and begs the question as to whether this is an agreement between the ministry and servizz.org only.

“On one side you have the Permanent Secretary Mark Musu while, on the other, you have the CEO of servizz.gov Winston Pirotta. The employee's signature is then placed underneath them, with 'agreed with' preceding it,” he indicated.

There are also a number of conditions within the contract that have given rise to concerns from employees affected by them.

An example of this, he said, is the working hours. The conditions of work only delineate the client hours without giving much information about the working hours per se.  Sacco pointed out that client hours make up 32.5 hours of a usual 40-hour week, so employees were left to question what they need to do to fill up the remaining 7.5 hours.

“The only information in the contract that relates to this is; the employee will be required to provide his/her expertise at different servizz.gov hubs based on the exigencies of service provision, including the remaining four hours to fulfil the 40 hour per week work schedule.”

Additionally, employees who are working at reduced hours are unsure if they will still be working such hours one they are transferred, he said.

Another question which Sacco do not have an answer to is how the workers will be compensated for the extra hours they worked from the beginning of the year till now.

Sacco explained that the biggest fear that employees are facing is that it seems like this is being presented to them as an ultimatum and they only have a week to decide on it.

He mulled over the reason behind these contracts and speculated that servizz.gov wants to take all public service branches under its belt, seeing that the 90 employees affected come from district offices, not head offices.

Asked for his opinion on moving their services to an online platform, Sacco said that having public services stations is always preferable as some people might not have access to online services, like the elderly who have queries about their pensions.

He was also asked if the administration has been in contact with those responsible for issuing this contract. Sacco said that, for now, they are waiting for feedback about the queries that were put forward by the employees.

“Employees are hesitant to singing the contract when there are so many questions that are being left unanswered,” he explained.

Right of reply

I refer to the article “90 public service employees given one week to sign ‘obscure contract’ between ministry and servizz.gov”, which featured on The Malta Independent on 22nd May 2020.

Public Service employees working at the Department of Social Security’s district offices were offered to provide their services and same line of work with the servizz.gov agency.

It is entirely up to employees to take up the offer. Those who do not opt for the offer will remain with the public service. Those who do opt in will be on loan with servizz.gov, and will fall under the agency’s administration.

Public Service employees choosing to be on loan will result in higher remuneration, but this goes hand-in-hand with having to be flexible to cater for the clients’ needs.

This is not the first time that such a procedure has been undertaken. Over the years, public officers were given the choice of whether to move on to other government entities. This has also been applied by servizz.gov just a few months ago, and public officers were assigned on loan on the same terms with this agency.

Servizz.gov is an agency which provides government services on multiple platforms: by telephone, email, mobile phone, online, and through its regional hubs. It caters for hundreds of online services, and more than 250 service in each and every regional service hub. These hubs are aimed at citizens who prefer a one-to-one service. Servizz.gov is currently working to expand its hubs, so that its clients who prefer to access services face to face will not need to go from one department to another but will find all services under one roof as close as possible to their locality. Service hubs are but one pillar of Government’s vision, launched five years ago, to provide services on a 24/7 basis to all, and from everywhere.

It is somewhat ironical that at the same time that UĦM Voice of the Workers made the issue public and rubbished it, the same union requested, in a letter, that workers are given more time to decide on the offer. The public service employees were given information about the concept and related work conditions during a meeting with Serviz.gov officials. They were also given a week to either accept the new job opportunity or remain with the public service. Those who attended for the meeting were given a copy of the work conditions. Servizz.gov believes that a week is ample time for one to decide.

Paul Azzopardi

Director of Information

 

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