Steward contract ‘legitimises Vitals fraud – UĦM chief executive

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Allowing the controversial hospitals concession granted to Vitals to be transferred to Steward Health Care legitimises the fraud that brought about the concession in the first place, UĦM Voice of the Workers chief executive Josef Vella maintained.

Vella was commenting on the Vitals/Steward deal on Newsbook Hour on 103 and on Newsbook.com.mt, which is presented by Fr Joe Borg.

Together with the Medical Association of Malta, the UĦM – which represents a sizeable number of healthcare workers – had asked the National Audit Office to look into the Vitals deal, leading the NAO to publish a damning report indicating that there had been collusion ahead of the deal.

“It was clear at the time that there was a mechanism at play that was suspect at best,” Vella recalled, noting that the union had refused to reach an agreement with Vitals.

While the UĦM does feel satisfied that its concerns were vindicated by the report, Vella expressed his concerns that in spite of all its efforts, the concession would be allowed to continue unimpeded.

Not ‘the real thing’

The UĦM has long insisted that the concession should be revoked even now that it has been transferred to Steward, and the NAO report has led it to step up its calls.

After the Vitals fiasco, Health Minister Chris Fearne had said that Steward were now “the real thing,” but Vella dismissed such justifications for the continuation of the deal.

“We are sending the message that you can carry out a fraud, a theft… and you can get away with in by transferring what you stole,” Vella said. Thus, he argued, transferring the concession to Steward was legitimising the wrongdoing that had happened.

But the union chief also emphasised that there were little signs of a change between Vitals and Steward, noting how the latter retained key staff from the former operation.

“If this is not collusion, then what is,” he asked. “If you wanted to draw a line under Vitals once and for all, would you retain the director involved in the same collusion?”

Illegal wage practices, payslip mayhem

Vella also reiterated a claim made by the head of the union’s health services section Gian Paul Gauci: that Steward illegally was illegally paying workers less for doing the same work as their colleagues who had been originally employed by the government.

Newsbook.com.mt had sought Steward’s reaction to such claims, among other questions, but the company chose not to address this particular claim.

“They cannot answer,” Vella observed when the matter is brought up. “What can they say, that it is true and publicly admit to illegality?”

But he emphasised that the payslips the union has access to confirmed this illicit practice, amid other inconsistencies.

The salaries workers received often varied from month to month due to an inconsistent system and frequent software changes, Vella maintained, adding that “the confusion was enormous.”