Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Netto challeges Government and Union as Health row deepens

Caruana writes personalised letter to nurses.

“Montiel out of tune with members,” says outgoing committee.

Gibraltar Health Authority remains steeped in industrial unrest as the outgoing Nursing Section Committee has vowed that it will resist what it describes as “a Government onslaught to steamroll their agenda at the expense of rolling back hard-won benefits over the years.”

In a statement issued yesterday former spokesman for the Nursing Section Committee Michael Netto accused the Gibraltar Government of “following a path of tightfistedness and conflict instead of co-operation,” while arguing that “it is a sad day for the union when TGWU officials clearly side with the Chief Minister against the best interest of their members making a mockery of basic trade union principles.”

Mr Netto also accuses the TGWU of having an “identity problem” and asks “who is in charge of the Union?” suggesting that Convent Place is “protecting District Officer Luis Montiel’s credibility in these negotiations.”

Meanwhile, in an unparalleled move, Chief Minister Peter Caruana has written individually to the approximately 330 nurses at the Gibraltar Health Authority, “to rebut” the allegation that he was using “bullying tactics against nursing staff and their interests.”

In the personalised letter sent to each staff member’s home address Mr Caruana says that he cannot let “this extraordinary and false remark to go unanswered,” while accusing the outgoing Nursing Section Committee of making statements that are “totally untrue” and “intended to inflame nursing staff at this critical moment for the GHA as it prepares to move to the new hospital.”

Mr Caruana writes:

“All that we have asked is that claims that have nothing to do with the move to the new hospital should be linked with the move to the new hospital. In other words that the Government should not be subjected to bullying tactics.”

Outgoing Committee convene meeting

For its part the outgoing committee has called on all nursing staff to attend a meeting of all grades to be held at the hospital tomorrow Wednesday at 3pm. “We will discuss the current pay negotiations, the future Health Authority and the Agenda for Change,” said a spokesman.

Contrary to the statement by District Officer Luis Montiel, the Nursing Section has always ensured that our members are kept regularly updated during all negotiations. In reality no other section of shop stewards in our organization produces as many internal bulletins as we do.

Blaming the Nursing Section for its limitations when we have exposed the shortcomings of the negotiating process and the role of our trade union officials is understandable. It must be stated that the buck starts and stops with Union officials who lead and advise on effective strategies. The District Officer must understand that if there is an accountability deficit it is because of lack of support to shop stewards, who are finding that this is seriously affecting the service they offer our members.

Ironically when the District Officer highlights the discontent of nurses with the committee and labels us as anti-democratic, he avoids mentioning that he does not want to give the members the general meeting they have been requesting, and that for the past two weeks we have called on the TGWU/ACTS officials to call this meeting, but he has been unwilling.

What we cannot accept from the District Officer is his comment to the effect that we are doing a disservice to our members. He must realise that not only nurses but many T&G members do not find his explanations convincing. The Nursing Section was not content at the way negotiations were being conducted. Meetings were being held by GHA management, Govern-ment and TGWU officials, setting parameters for negotiations predetermining the outcome prior to consultation with the Nursing Section.

On recent occasions the Nursing Section has been muzzled by TGWU officials to the extent of censoring bulletins informing our membership of the progress in negotiation. This has caused concern among the membership who, rightly so demanded to be kept abreast of negotiations. This resulted in the collection of signatures calling for a general meeting, and not as stated by the TGWU press release ‘calling for the removal of the Nursing Section Committee.’ To date this petition is still being ignored by TGWU officials.

As dedicated trade unionists with no personal interests at heart, we feel we have acted responsibly. We have a right to be consulted throughout the process and we have not. Definitely the union has an identity problem and members in the GHA and other workplaces affiliated to the T&G ask themselves, who is in charge of the T&G? Nurses have many causes for dissatisfaction and Mr Montiel is failing members because the Government is following a path of tightfistedness and conflict instead of that of co-operation. It is our opinion, that it is the District Officer who is badly out of tune with his members over the state of the trade union movement, and of his stewardship of the union.

We do agree that it is in fact a sad day for the Trade Union movement when TGWU officials clearly side with the Chief Minister against the best interest of their members, making a mockery of basic trade union principles. The Nursing Section is not in need of a reminder regarding patients’ interests; our track record on this issue is there for all to see. During the past fifteen years we have been at the vanguard campaigning on issues relating to improvement in the health service. Now, as No. 6 Convent Place did a few weeks ago the District Officer is trying to discredit the Nursing Section by insinuating that we do not have the interest of patients at heart. This is totally unfair.

The issue being avoided by the District Officer is the Government’s response to our claims. It is clear that the Government has failed its nurses; it is failing to recognize our commitment to the health service. It is failing to care for its staff. The nurses are angry and there are some hard choices to be made by the trade union leadership, but unless they are made quickly the credibility of the union will be undermined still further. The choices for nurses, and for all other Union members is clear we require a strong, independent and professional union, one where democracy starts and finishes at the grass roots.


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