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Unite raises GHA bullying concerns after Nightingale appointment

Unite the Union has said that bullying within the GHA should be taken seriously and not set aside amidst the Covid-19 crisis.

The union’s comments were noted by the Gibraltar Government and the Chief Minister Fabian Picardo, who explained that he was in contact with Unite and working through the issues.

“We are working through these issues so that Unite and its members have the confidence that the Government that championed and passed the anti-bullying legislation takes it very seriously indeed,” Mr Picardo said in a statement.

Unite's concerns centre on a senior appointment at the Nightingale field hospital which it said had prompted a “negative” response from its members.

Although it did not refer to him by name, the union was reacting to the appointment of Dr Daniel Cassaglia, the GHA’s Medical Director who stepped down from the post last year pending the outcome of a disciplinary hearing arising from a bullying case filed against the GHA by two hospital pathologists.

The two pathologists accused Dr Cassaglia of bullying following a heated exchange over access to patient data in the hospital laboratory.

While one of those claims was dismissed, tribunal chairman Joseph Nuñez upheld the second claim, finding that Dr Cassaglia had pushed and verbally abused one of the pathologists and that the GHA, as his employer, was liable.

Dr Cassaglia, an experienced consultant paediatrician, has filed a case in the Supreme Court in a bid to quash the Employment Tribunal’s decision.

The bullying case was the first successful claim under Gibraltar’s Bullying at Work Act but Dr Cassaglia, who denies he bullied anyone, argues the decision against the GHA was reached via “a fundamentally flawed and unfair process” in which his interests were not properly protected despite the impact on his reputation.

The case is still before the courts and the disciplinary process remains live.

Yesterday the union said it wrote to the Chief Secretary over the issue last week to seek certain assurances regarding the appointment.

But, it said, matters had escalated in the last couple of days.

“The decision to make this senior and very public appointment is now spreading unrest, anxiety, low morale and raising significant concerns amongst frontline healthcare workers,” the union said in a statement.

“This is because the outcomes of the bullying at work claim to the employment tribunal against the GHA have not yet been addressed and members are understandably questioning this senior appointment.”

“The Unite Health Branch Officials met on Tuesday to discuss member concerns concluding that the medical expertise of the said individual can serve well and be utilised productively during the Covid-19 crisis, but question marks prevail over the senior appointment.”

The Unite Health Branch is therefore seeking urgent dialogue with the Government to address the “negative response” received from members and to ensure that combined efforts against Covid-19 are not undermined in any way.

Stuart Davies, Unite National Officer for Gibraltar, said: “Given the obvious disquiet that this appointment would cause amongst our membership against the backdrop of the employment tribunal judgment and unresolved, associated issues, it is disappointing that the union were not briefed in advance.”

“This would have provided the opportunity to seek key assurances to assist in dealing with member concerns. The priority is clear, that is the collective fight against Covid-19.”

“However this appointment has proven divisive, as well as proving to be an unwelcome distraction.”

“The Health Branch have been measured in their concerns and criticisms, recognising that the medical battle against this virus is key and all medical expertise is required for that collective effort.

“However concerns are still prevalent regarding the seriousness with which the GHA view bullying in the workplace.”

“The current crisis takes clear precedent over any industrial dispute; however the Health Branch are making the public call for dialogue with Government on this issue to positively address the concerns of members and to ensure that the sole focus of the GHA’s resources is on tackling Covid-19.”

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