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After Two Weeks Of Social Worker Strikes In Malta, The End May Be In Sight

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For the last two weeks, employees of the Foundation for Social Welfare Services (FSWS), including social workers who are members of MASW (Maltese Association of Social Workers), have been following industrial actions after discussions for the new collective agreement were slow to progress.

They have asked for a new financial package as well as better work conditions.

Speaking to Lovin Malta, the UĦM Voice of the Workers’ Isabelle Farrugia explained why they felt now was the time to ask for a better package for FSWS employees.

“The majority of the FSWS members are social workers, but there are also psychologists, psychotherapists, family therapists, community workers and many others professions as well as clinical workers,” she said. 

“We’ve been negotiating for over a year now, but we have reached a stumbling block. We have asked for a financial package but there has been no commitment. I don’t have anything concrete to give the employees as it stands.

She spoke about the conditions some workers face on the job.

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An image from a 2013 demonstration for social workers. Photo: Darrin Zammit Lupi

“They deal with emotional cases, cases of abuse, so there is burnout,” she said. “They go into people’s homes, and they have to assess the situation there and then – they don’t have the comfort of asking their manager, so they become exposed to risks.”

Speaking of workers who deal with cases of domestic abuse and other types of violence, she pointed out that “there are only a few people going into this profession. They actually need more social workers right now,” referring to the lack of Maltese social workers currently working.

She also said that they’ve sent “a lot of proposals to the Foundation – we are trying to find a solution.”

Mr. Alfred Grixti, the Chief Executive Officer at the FSWS, which administers social welfare groups like Appoġġ and Sedqa, told Lovin Malta that “the whole issue is about the renewal of the collective agreement which, obviously, has a financial aspect to it and, thus, needs to be vetted and approved by the Ministry for Finance.”

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Alfred Grixti

He told Lovin Malta that “firstly, we are close to concluding the deal – we are literally at the number crunching stage and the Union, my finance and HR teams, and the number crunchers at the Ministry for Finance are going into the numbers down to the last minute detail. Secondly, we have an understanding with the Union that it does not benefit anyone to try to score points by going to the media. We have a healthy working relationship and we are on speaking terms and in regular contact.”

He continued by saying that “my management team and I appreciate that the Union is doing its job and that this includes taking industrial action. This, obviously, has its repercussions on the service as any industrial action at any place of work has – otherwise it would not be industrial action.”

“However, we are confident that we can come to a solution which is a win-win both for us as an employer and for our employees. Let me be clear. I have already stated on the record during the negotiations that our aim as management is to ensure that the new collective agreement addresses the basic issues of recruitment and retention. Thus, any deal has to address these two basic requirements in order for my management team and myself to be satisfied with the outcome.”

“We are confident that we can come to a solution which is a win-win both for us as an employer and for our employees”

Mr Alfred Grixti

While Mr. Grixti foresees an ending to negotiations soon, Ms. Farrugia said that if the financial package and improved work conditions are not met, “we will be escalating the directives.”

Some of the new directives that could go into effect next week are:

  • no attendance or participation in school interventions
  • no attendance or participation in community interventions
  • no attendance or participation in case reviews or case conferences
  • no attendance or participation at hospitals or state institutions
  • allocation meetings will be suspended
  • they will not be taking new referrals from most medical institutions
  • no writing or process of ‘long term care’ reports

That said, she was cognisant of the vital role that social workers could play in certain violent situations, so they’ve also directed all of their members to “supersede” the industrial orders if such a case arises. 

“We need to take care of the professionals as well as the people who use their service,” she said.

What do you think of the social worker strike?

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