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GHA ‘deeply disappointed’ by Unite’s ‘combative’ stance

Photo by Johnny Bugeja,

The Director General of the GHA said he was “deeply disappointed” by Unite the Union’s decision to push on with a demonstration next week over what it says are insecure and short-term contracts in healthcare.

Professor Patrick Geoghegan, who has met with Unite officials monthly since he took up the post in January, said he had considered that both sides were working “very closely” in recent months to address “pertinent issues.”

GHA directors have also met with Unite representatives every two weeks and communication between the GHA and the union was “much improved.”

“At these meetings both parties expressed a mutual understanding that whilst there is a strong appetite for change, sustainable institutional change cannot be accomplished overnight and the GHA and Unite need to work together and not against each other in delivering the changes that may be agreed are necessary,” the GHA said in a statement.

“The GHA agrees that there is much work still to be done.”

“However, Unite should not dismiss or overlook the significant progress made by the GHA in partnership with staff…”

The GHA said the improvements included:

• The signing of over 380 new employment contracts, and amendments to contracts that were outstanding. The GHA understands that this is already more contracts than have been announced in the Department of Education, but with potentially more to come as the GHA and Unite work through issues of staffing post pandemic.

• Full engagement of clinical staff in the development of the GHA’s clinical structures going forward.

• Regular meetings with staff, many on a 1:1 basis. “The feedback has been very positive,” the GHA said.

• Launch of a Zero Tolerance campaign to support staff, illustrating how highly valued they are.

• Immediate steps taken to address concerns regarding the work environment.

• Reduced staff absences by facilitating return to work.

• Facilitating the return to work of staff who were away on long-term interdiction.

• Introducing an open-door policy where frontline staff can meet with the Director General and have frank discussions, “which has been taken up and appreciated by staff.”

“The GHA is, therefore, struggling to understand why Unite are not conducting themselves with the same transparency and offering the same commitment to negotiate that they have demanded from the GHA, and which the GHA has been happy to provide,” the GHA added.

“Unite have not taken any opportunity to raise their concerns with historic agreements regarding time in lieu, nor have they brought forward any new ideas or proposals on the matter.”

The GHA and Unite are due to meet on March 29 and the health authority urged the union to raise any concerns in that meeting.

The GHA said it remained open to negotiations but said both parties must be “… willing to listen to each other, understand where points of view might diverge, and be ready to negotiate to agree reasonable solutions.”

“In escalating matters via the press and reiterating its intention to demonstrate outside No.6 Convent Place, Unite is not acting in a reciprocal manner or showing willingness to negotiate in good faith,” the GHA added.

“The GHA is struggling to understand why Unite is potentially politicising matters by seeking the involvement of the Government by going to the seat of Government in Gibraltar, instead of continuing the work of doing the opposite and working with the newly formed GHA Board.”

The GHA reiterated that staff and patient welfare was its paramount priority and that its current policy on time in lieu was designed to ensure that staff take the days off that they are entitled to and get adequate rest time.

“No member of staff will lose out and the GHA is open to discuss this matter further,” it said.

“The GHA is surprised that Unite has chosen to raise the issue of the reduction of relief cover via the press in a manner that suggests that staff will be disadvantaged.”

“The reality is that the GHA is responding to the requests of staff, also expressed by Unite, to stabilise the workforce and put as many permanent contracts in place as possible in order to provide staff with the certainty and security that they need.”

“The filling of vacant posts rather than relying on temporary or relief cover is something that staff have been asking for, and which is in the interests of both staff and patients.”

“However, once the new complement is fixed and filled, the GHA will obviously not need so much relief or temporary cover.”

“The GHA hope that Unite should be able to understand this.”

The GHA said it was committed to its ‘Reset, Restart and Recover’ strategy, which aims to rethink its operations in order to meet the immediate and long-term needs

It said any planned changes will be in consultation with staff and their union representatives, with the best interests of staff and patients at heart.

“The GHA is disappointed and surprised that Unite have chosen to escalate to this level, especially when so much good work has been done over the last few months,” Prof Geoghegan said.

“Significant progress has been made but in order to continue working together there needs to be goodwill on both sides, and both need to continue to bring something to the table.”

“The GHA has kept its promises to date, remains open to reasonable discussions and open communication, and hopes that Unite will reconsider this combative stance, which is in direct contradiction to the cooperative consultations enjoyed so far.”

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