9 - 15 May, 2001

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Melita Optika closes down

By Miriam Dunn

The loss of its US client led to the decision of Melita Optika to close its Malta operations, General Workers’ Union section spokesman Andrew Mizzi told The Business Times yesterday.

The GWU yesterday issued a press statement announcing that the factory, which manufactures spectacles, was closing its Malta base, due to "difficulties in international markets". One hundred and four of the 150 workers employed there have been given their notice immediately, while the rest will wind up their employment over the next six weeks.
Mr Mizzi, who stressed that the union was trying to help the workers find alternative work, admitted that it is a difficult time for factories, who are having to adapt their operations to the global market.
"Many smaller operations, like some of those at Mosta Technopark, are feeling very jittery, and even the larger factories, such as ST Microelectronics, have a decrease in their workload," he said.
Mr Mizzi, who is secretary of the GWU’s technology and electronic workers’ section, said that factories which specialised in these sectors were suffering the ripple effects of the economic unrest in the US and also having to deal with the worrying developments in the electronic field abroad.
"For example, the latest reports state that Dell computers are laying off almost 4,000 workers," he said.
Other contributing factors are thought to be a strong Maltese lira against the euro and a feeling of insecurity on a local level.
"Some of the larger operations will weather the storm, but in Melita Optika’s case, they lost their US client and could not recover from that," he said. "For some time, the German subsidiary pumped them with work, but they obviously reached a point at which their stores became full."
Asked to comment, Federation of Industry secretary general Edward Calleja told The Business Times that when production is dependent on exports, it is inevitable that the impact of what is happening in the foreign markets will be felt.
"But there are other factors involved as well, most notably competitiveness. This is a global market and being competitive is the name of the game," he added. "Yes, some operations are feeling the repercussions of the unsettled US economy, but there are other operations, such as Methode Malta, which have a vast US clientele and are doing very well."

Mr Calleja said that operations that had a wider portfolio of production were finding it easier to weather current problems, especially when it was recognised that the electronics sector was going through a great deal of turbulence.
"Obviously if companies have managed to force the pace in other markets and expand their specialisation, they have more room to manoeuvre," he said.
Although yesterday’s announcement is a blow for industry, recent employment figures were not all doom and gloom. Data released by the National Statistics Office showed that the jobless figure for March stood at 6,591 – down about 1,100 on the previous March.


The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt