25 April - 1 May 2001
By Miriam Dunn
The General Workers union has moved with the times, recognising the importance of social dialogue, accepting that globalisation is part of progress and acknowledging that the concept of a job for life is a thing of the past.
GWU deputy secretary general, Mario Cutajar, who was interviewed in our sister paper MaltaToday this Sunday, stressed that the union had long recognised the importance of social partnership.
"So much so that we played a pioneering role in promoting the initiative," he said.
Mr Cutajar highlighted the important part that the Malta Council for Economic Development was adopting in this regard, but stressed that the GWU still wanted to see some changes in its set-up.
"The GWU has stated that the MCED should not only remain a debating society, but should be based on the Irish model, developing as a forum for negotiations and decision-making," he said. "We should remember that the government is a social partner, along with the unions and employers associations. It is elected democratically by the people and functions on their behalf. And who are the people? The workers."
I asked Mr Cutajar whether he believed that the days when unions and bosses were pitted against each other were over, with both sides now more willing to talk in an ongoing manner rather than taking confrontational stands when problems arose.
"The GWU has always been happy to enter into dialogue with the employers associations," he answered. "But if you leave it up to the employers they would certainly opt for a hire and fire approach, which we wouldnt like, so discussions must be the key and this could most definitely be a valid role for the MCED."
Turning to the issue of how the GWU views its role in the changing economy, Mr Cutajar said the union is aware of the need to continually move forward.
"If we dont it means were moving backwards," he said. "We recognise that businesses have to be competitive to sustain jobs and that technological advancement has made globalisation inevitable. We also accept that theres no job for life nowadays.
"But just as important is the need to have a vision about what kind of society we want. In this respect, the GWU always gives importance to the fact that it has been a social movement since it was formed in 1943 and will remain so."
On the subject of privatisation, Mr Cutajar said that the GWU strongly believed that certain essential services should definitely remain in government control because of their social dimension.
"We can cite examples of the British experience during the Thatcher era when privatisation went mad, so to speak," he explained. "When the water services were privatised, there were reports describing how blocks of flats had their supply cut. That is one of the issues with privatisation the difficulty in reconciling the interests of society with profit-making."
He added that as well as the social aspect, other companies had an economic dimension, citing Malta International Airport known to be on the governments privatisation list as an example.
"Since we only have one airport, its very important to know how this will be done. After all, MIA is an example of an essential service which plays a strategic role in Maltas economic independence," he said. "There are a lot of questions that need answering, like whether the privatisation will be restricted to the terminals or be more far-reaching."
As to the way forward on an economic front, Mr Cutajar highlighted the importance of luring investment to Malta and ensuring the problems at home were not being neglected due to a European Union accession obsession.
"There is too much talk about the EU, to the point that its becoming absurd," he said. "It is important the government doesnt make the mistake of missing what is wrong on our own doorstep just because it is so determined to join the EU."