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GHA walkout averted amid bitter political exchanges

A planned protest at St Bernard’s Hospital was yesterday curbed following a last minute meeting between unions and Health Minister Neil Costa.
Mr Costa met with Unite the Union on Thursday evening where 16 GHA representatives cited “long standing staffing matters” as the reason for industrial action.
According to a union representative, members were willing to put action on hold following talks with Mr Costa and will be meeting with Chief Minister Fabian Picardo on Monday.
GHA staff had been poised to strike outside St Bernard’s at 3pm yesterday but suspended the action after a majority voted against the planned demonstration pending Monday’s meeting.
“The meeting finished with a guarantee from Mr Costa that he would personally continue to work with the Union until all longstanding and outstanding issues were resolved,” a government statement said.
“The government would like to highlight the excellent work recently finalized with Unite the Union on issues such as the Care Workers Industrial Review and at the GHA, which has resulted in a positive outcome in respect of the issues raised by Unite.”
But the tension at the hospital prompted concern from the GSD, which called on the Gibraltar Government to tackle what it described as the “rock bottom morale” among hospital workers.
“We welcome positive engagement by the Government and the Unions. Industrial action at the hospital should be a last resort,” a GSD statement read.
“However, the Government cannot continue to dismiss complaints and grievances at the hospital as rumour spreading by a few rotten apples, which is how the Chief Minister put it on GBC a few weeks ago. It cannot continue to deny morale is at an all-time low.”
“There are serious labour and service issues, which remain of concern to staff and patients alike.”
“The exploitation of staff on short term fixed contracts and recruitment agencies are amongst these concerns. No amount of spin or soft front page pictures in the press will alter those facts. For the sake of our community this needs to be sorted out.”
Opposition leader Daniel Feetham later tweeted: “Six years after getting elected and it's either the fault of "rotten apples" within the GHA or legacy issues. Solutions not excuses please!”
But the intervention on social media drew a stinging rebuke from Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who said Mr Costa was doing a “brilliant” job in the GHA and said the “issues we are dealing with are legacy issues”.
Mr Picardo also accused the Opposition of “exploiting the GHA for partisan gain”.
“Arguments about morale are facile,” he posted on Facebook.
“The fact is that morale is damaged principally by the unethical criticism of the GHA which the GSD leads.”
“We will continue to work with Unite to try to resolve all matters. We will always work in good faith with the Union.”
“But what this community will never forgive, will be an Opposition party that stokes industrial unrest in a hospital in a manner that might expose patient care.”
The Chief Minister also slammed the GSD for claiming that he had visited the hospital to talk to staff in a bid to defuse the row.
In fact, Mr Picardo said he had been at the hospital mortuary “for five minutes” on Thursday to pay his respects to the family of a work colleague and had spent yesterday morning in The Convent at an Honours Board.

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