Carers at the John Mackintosh elderly residential wing mounted a protest outside the Main Street offices of Grand Home Care yesterday, as controversy arising from a change of contract flared up once again.
As workers took to the street supported by Unite the Union officials, there were acrimonious exchanges about the way the transfer of the contract had been handled and the impact it was having on staff.
The Gibraltar Government said a new contract to provide services at the wing had been awarded to MedDoc Healthcare on March 5 after a competitive tender process, replacing a contract held by Grand Home Care. Both companies were told that the contract handover would take place on April 6.
According to the government, Grand Home Care thus had over four weeks to assess whether it would need to lay off any of its workers and, if so, inform them and provide redundancy payments under local employment law.
But the government claimed that even as of yesterday morning, Grand Home Care’s staff at the John Mackintosh wing had not yet been notified whether they would be retained or made redundant, leaving them in a limbo as to their employment future.
MedDoc Healthcare has said it has jobs for Grand Home Care’s staff on the wing, but that it cannot take them on until their current employment is over.
The Gibraltar Government has stressed that despite the row, the provision of service to residents at the wing has not been impacted negatively. MedDoc, supported by staff from the Elederly Residential Service, is now running the wing.
But in a lengthy and stern statement last night, the government was sharply critical of Grand Home Care’s handling of the situation, which it described as “shocking” and “appalling”.
The government said it had repeatedly urged Grand Home Care to identify which of its employees would be released so that they could approach MedDoc for employment, but without success.
Health Minister Neil Costa yesterday met with officials from Unite the Union and representatives of the affected workers. Even at this late stage, the government claimed, the workers had told the minister that Grand Home Care had not informed them of any potential redundancies, or even that the company was no longer providing services at the John Mackintosh wing.
Brandishing placards carrying slogans such as ‘Silence never won rights’ and ‘We are waiting for our terminations’, around 20 affected employees later gathered outside the offices of Grand Home Care and periodically shouted ‘termination’ in unison.
Unite official Christian Duo confirmed the union had held a meeting with the Gibraltar Government yesterday morning, adding that one key issue was MedDoc’s requirement for a seven-day break between jobs for affected workers.
“It went well, but obviously they said it was news for them that MedDoc’s requirement was a seven-day gap between the termination and the engagement, so they will see what they can do on that,” he said.
“So that’s the reason why the members themselves have decided to ask for their resignation, because Government’s position is they’re going to help them by having MedDoc engage them before the seven-day period they are claiming.”
Referring to TUPE legislation that protects the rights and employment conditions of workers transferred from one company to another, Mr Duo added: “It’s not that the union are telling the members to resign, because our position all along has been that TUPE applies, therefore there should have been a seamless process from one company to the other.”
“But what is unacceptable for the union is that employees are going to be unemployed for a couple of days before [being employed by] MedDoc.”
The protest, he explained, was aimed at speeding up the process of termination.
Grand Home Care has insisted from the outset that it has worked with all parties to try and ensure a smooth handover. Like Unite, it believes TUPE legislation applies in these circumstances, a position that the government rejects.
Yesterday the company said it was “very surprised” by the demonstration outside its offices, given that both parties had been in agreement on the way forward.
“The demonstration was clearly aimed at trying to show Grand Home Care as the ‘bad guys’,” the company said in a statement emailed to the media.
It added that “the stumbling block” yesterday was the time it would have taken the company to process termination notices for the 44 affected workers with the Employment and Training Board.
But it said it had agreed to process them immediately following the government’s meeting with the union.
“Even then, an agreement had to be entered into to allow for any adjustments therein to be handed in to the ETB after the event,” the company added.
“It was due to the fact this was only a minor issue that Grand Home Care has taken exception to the union’s choice action today.”