Mater Dei officials led a ‘vendetta’ against three employees – Court says

Judge orders hospital to pay three phlebotomists who followed union directives

A judge has ordered the Mater Dei Hospital authorities to pay full wages to three phlebotomists who suffered a pay-cut for following directives ordered by their union.

He said that what the hospital had done amounted to “retaliatory measures” and effectively a vendetta against who had chosen to obey directives issued by the union representing them.

Mr Justice JR Micallef made the observations as he was upholding a request for an injunction filed by the three phlebotomists claiming they had suffered various acts of intimidation after following a union directive issued upon the registration of an industrial dispute with hospital authorities.

The application for a warrant of prohibitory injunction was filed last month against the Permanent Secretary at the Health Ministry and against the CEO at Mater Dei Hospital by phlebotomists Deborah Anne Buttigieg, Jonathan Vella and Marisa Saliba, who are affiliated with UHM Voice of the Workers.

The court heard that the dispute had arisen when their superiors ordered them to report for duty at the pathology section of the oncology department at Mater Dei rather than at the Sir Anthony Mamo oncology centre, on the pretext of a rotation exercise involving all phlebotomists.

The union intervened on behalf of the plaintiffs, and although the matter was apparently resolved, the hospital authorities refused to implement the verbal agreement reached. For this reason, the UHM directed the three employees concerned to continue to report for work at the oncology centre.

However, abiding by this directive meant that the plaintiffs had to face hardship. They claimed they were being given unsuitable or reduced duties to perform, were placed in a room cut off from their colleagues and were even deprived of their lockers.

When in spite of such unjust treatment, the plaintiffs firmly held their ground, the hospital management began to deduct their wages under the pretext of an “absence deduction”. This measure clearly ran counter to employment regulations, which prohibit employers from withholding wages just because an employee is following a union directive.

The plaintiffs argued that the wage deduction had had a direct effect upon them, causing them to suffer a financial loss, as well as impinging upon their fundamental right of association. This right signified that they were free to join a trade union and to safeguard their employment interests, even by following union directives.

Mr Justice Micallef upheld these claims, describing the hospital’s decision to withhold wages as “a form of retaliation” for obeying directives issued by their union.

He ordered the hospital to pay the workers the wages they were due and also to pay the court fees in connection with the warrant the workers had filed.

The warrant was signed by lawyers Ian Spiteri Bailey and Victoria Cuschieri.

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