Court limits MUMN’s industrial action

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

The Court has limited the industrial action by the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, ordering to withdraw directives which were deemed detrimental to the patient’s wellbeing.

On Friday, the court ruled that the industrial action ordered by the union can go ahead except for directives which could place patients’ health at risk. Mr Justice Robert Mangion presiding over the First Hall of the Civil Court also disallowed any action that was to be taken by nurses working at St Vincent De Paul and Karin Grech Rehabilitation Hospital.

The directives issued for Mater Dei Hospital will go ahead and therefore only four of the 12 operating theatres currently in use during the pandemic can be used.

The MUMN is in dispute with the government over wages and allowances, and has instructed its members to not coordinate the transfer of patients, to not carry out blood tests and other tests including coronavirus swabs and other directives depending on which hospital they are assigned to.

The judgement on Friday partly upheld an application for an injunction against the union’s widespread action filed by the health authorities. While the Court did not delve into the financial issues which are the source of the industrial actions, it delved into which actions could go ahead and which could not.

The Court said that while the right to industrial action must be respected, the court must act with caution and attention ensuring that patients’ lives and health are not jeopardize, more so amid a global pandemic.

The list of directives was reviewed by the court as it disallowed some actions which were deemed detrimental to the patients’ health. Mr Justice Mangion disallowed directives for nurses not to call for bed cleaning. He also struck off the directive ordering members of the union not to give handovers to other hospitals or homes and not to refer patients to allied professionals for treatment. He also dropped the directive concerning following up on results including Covid-19 swab tests.

Other directives to be ignored are not to report any faults in the ward and not to coordinate with any other ward or other hospital personnel. 

The Court disallowed any action at St Vincent de Paul facility for the elderly, with it highlighting that such measures could place patients at risk. Nurses working there were ordered not to help in food delivery, to refrain from bathing patients among other directives. Similarly, the court disallowed directives at Karin Grech Hospital.

Mr Justice Mangion ruled that any delays in communication or coordination with regards to a patient’s case file may endanger their lives.

MUMN declares victory

The court’s ruling was described as a “great victory” by the MUMN on Saturday.

In a statement it said that the government cannot deny the union from issuing certain directives to exert pressures on the authorities forcing them to enter into negotiations on the current sectoral agreement.

Nurses and Midwives were heavily discriminated when their allowances and working conditions were superseded by the sectoral agreement of the Allied Health Professionals.

Nursing and midwifery professions in Malta like other European countries are suffering from a substantial amount of shortage and should have never been treated as second class professionals, the union maintained.

Mater Dei Hospitals and other hospitals are momentarily experiencing a migration of foreign nurses to Northern Ireland and the UK due to a much better working conditions in such countries. This is causing further hardships due to heavy work load on the depleted nursing and midwifery workforce in all health care institutions.

“The Court’s decree issued yesterday authorises MUMN to achieve its goal by continuing to struggle for its members rights. Therefore MUMN expects that the sectoral agreement is to be discussed if the Health Division wants to prevent further industrial actions allowed by the same decree,” the statement reads.