A collective agreement regulating the work conditions of some 1,600 doctors working in the public sector will remain ‘secret’, as according to Health Minister Chris Fearne, its publication “is not in the public interest”.
Collective agreements, particularly those related to the public sector, are usually public documents. It is unclear why this is not the case with those of the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) and the health ministry.
The Shift submitted a Freedom of Information (FOI) request for the latest agreement on paying salaries and allowances to public health service doctors, but it was refused.
According to the health ministry, if such an agreement is known by others, including trade unions in the health sector, “it could have a substantial adverse effect on the conduct of negotiations, including commercial and industrial.”
“Since these agreements are targeted to a specific audience for a specific purpose, this matter tips in favour of non-disclosure rather than public interest,” the government said.
The Shift has filed a complaint to revise this position since other collective agreements involving the public sector are readily available. Since taxpayers pay the doctors, knowing how funds are spent is in their interest.
Speaking anonymously, various medical professionals told The Shift that the contents of the last collective agreement, signed by MAM for 2022-2026, are a well-guarded secret.
“Not even doctors have a copy of this document,” they said.
“If a doctor wants to check his employment conditions, he is asked to go to the MAM offices and see a physical copy of this agreement. He is not given a copy,” he said.
Sources explained that this level of secrecy is due to the government’s fear that the nurses union (MUMN) will use the conditions given to doctors as leverage in their negotiations and demands.
“There is a big difference between the profession of a doctor and a nurse, and the government’s argument does not hold any water. However, Minister Fearne ‘gets edgy every time he sees MUMN boss Paul Pace, which is the real reason for all this secrecy,” a veteran doctor said.
Recently, MUMN President Paul Pace received only a slap on the wrist from the Health Ministry despite an inquiry finding him guilty of taking thousands of euro in public funds for overtime he did not work, including hours he was out of the country on holiday.
While Pace’s case should have led to dismissal, a Public Service Commission board gave him a five-day suspension.
Pace and others involved are under police investigation for the misuse of public funds. Despite the evidence and the commission’s findings, Police Commissioner Angelo Gafa has yet to file charges.
The MUMN’s Executive Council has also not acted on Pace’s transgressions.