The UĦM proudly announced they have secured equal pay for the work being done by health workers engaged by Stewart Health Care and VGH at three formerly-public hospitals, working alongside and doing the same work as the public sector employees working at the same hospitals.
It’s the union’s job to fight the turf of its members and to get the best deal for them, so this is not about what the UĦM said or did. I don’t think there’s any reasonable objection to the principle that if you’re doing the same job at the same workplace you should be earning the same money.
But this story is more complicated than that. It’s a mess the government threw us in and we have to pay for, while some people – not the employees – get rich at our expense.
The privatisation of three former public hospitals was supposed to be a deal that benefits us as tax-payers and as patients. And it was supposed to, at a minimum, have a neutral impact on the staff working at the hospitals at the time of its privatisation.
Let’s examine that. Patients are not better off. Hospitals have hardly improved since privatisation and the promised transformation in the patients’ experience is still science-fiction. In the meantime, the cost to tax-payers has gone up.
As tax-payers we should be proud to contribute to ensure and guarantee the health of each and every member of our community. But we are still entitled to expect value for money. In order to secure that value for money the government is bound by rules: people are not paid what their director feels like paying them but must fit in salary scales applied across the service.
People cannot (or should not) be hired to government service because a department director likes the look of them. Which is why recruitment in the public service is centrally controlled and set against objective selection criteria to ensure quality standards and fairness.
These rules do not apply to private sector employers hiring their own staff to work on government contracts. But that’s only because there are other safeguards to ensure value for money. Those safeguards come at the stage of selecting a contractor, because selection happens after competition and if the competition is fair, the cheapest offer that meets all requirements is selected.
What happened in the case of the employees hired by VGH and Stewart? There was no proper competition to secure value for money. Stewart purchased the contract directly from VGH and VGH had a deal with the government sealed by Chris Cardona before the competition to pitch for it had opened yet.
The employees recruited directly by VGH and Stewart are comparable to employees working for a road building contractor, say, or a cleaning services company with a government contract. But the hospitals contract with Stewart is so rotten, so warped, and its business so unsustainable, that the government has now “absorbed” Stewart’s employees.
Good news for the employees. They’re not only getting a pay rise. They’re getting peace of mind, security of tenure and access to the career progression path of the entire national health service. On top of that they’re having the injustice of working for less money than people they rub shoulders with every day wiped away.
But in order to do this, tax-payers have to once again cover for the disaster the Health Minister Chris Fearne did when he authorised VGH’s sale of the hospitals contract to Stewart. Unlike Konrad Mizzi, he didn’t create this monster. But when he had the opportunity to decapitate it, take the hospitals back to government control and recruit the resources that needed recruiting following public sector rules and value for money safeguards, he passed and instead gave the monster a new lease extension.
The irony is that to continue to cover up the mess in the healthcare system that Labour has thrown us in, tax-payers must continue to “absorb” the cost of the paper being plastered, poorly, over the cracks.
And then a new injustice is created. Some health sector employees got their public sector jobs through competition, due process and the formalities of examination, certification, application, short-listing and selection. And some have been handpicked by the contractor and one fine day found themselves “absorbed” in permanent, public sector employment.
Is that fair? Konrad Mizzi probably thinks so. After all he’s ok. We’re the ones being fucked.