23 - 30 May, 2001
By Kurt Sansone
There are no agreed benchmarks as yet to calculate the levels of productivity and efficiency of government corporations and agencies, even though government is insisting that wage rises be linked to increased productivity.
UHM Secretary General Gejtu Vella told The Business Times that no agreement of this sort has ever been reached between the union and government. He explained that the government-appointed board of directors and the management of each entity determine the levels of efficiency for their respective companies, while the union normally discusses the conditions of work including improved production and efficiency with the respective entities.
Nonetheless, most of these companies are sustained by government subventions or subsidies, without which they would not be able to survive. To give two examples, the Freeport receives a subvention of Lm2.9 million while the Malta Maritime Authority receives Lm3.1 million.
Mr Vella insisted that the current spate of industrial action is a result of governments insistence on discussing financial packages as a separate item from the conditions of employment.
Mr Vella explained the situation, "The union starts discussing the conditions of work and other related aspects with the respective companies and, at a later stage, an official from the finance ministry enters the negotiations to discuss the financial package."
He continued, "This person is solely entrusted to discuss the financial aspect for all government agencies and he has clear instructions not to give in to increases."
Asked by The Business Times whether the country can afford these wage rises, Gejtu Vella insisted that the issue should be looked at from a wider perspective.
"The finance minister cannot look only at the financial aspect of the claims we are making. The rises are part of a wider package that includes improved work practices to ensure greater efficiency", Mr Vella said.
The eloquent UHM chief lamented Minister John Dallis criticism over the weekend and described it as unfair towards the UHM. Minister Dalli was reported as saying that wage rises would lead to increased taxation.
"As a union, we have always insisted that all workers give their eight hours of work. We have spoke against tax evasion and insisted for more than once that government should control its expenditure by cutting down on abuse and waste," Mr Vella concluded.
The UHM has given work-to-rule directives to its members employed with the Malta Maritime Authority, the Housing Authority, Sedqa and the social agency Appogg. Furthermore, employees in the public sector are instructed not to communicate with any of the stricken entities.
Apart from these agencies, industrial disputes ordered by the UHM or the GWU are either brewing or are currently in a dormant stage at Air Malta, the Freeport and Malta International Airport.