20 - 26 June , 2001

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Tony Zarb addresses ILO conference

Following are extracts from General Workers’ Union General Secretary, Tony Zarb’s address to the International Labour Organisation’s latest conference held in Geneva last weekend.

The GWU has always believed in social dialogue as it sees industrial stability as a precondition for economic and social development. The GWU was in fact one of the pioneering agents in the creation of the Malta Council for Economic Development (MCED) made up of the Government, trade unions and employers. The trade unions went further and proposed a revamp of this important council to include civil society. The GWU also pressed for this council to be transformed into a decision-making body rather than a debating society.

Recently, agreement was reached in this direction between the social partners within the MCED. However, to the surprise and anger of the unions and employers, the draft bill presented in Parliament to amend the role of MCED did not reflect what has been agreed. Consequently, the Chairman of MCED expressed the Council’s disappointment to the Prime Minister about the way proposals of the social partners were left out from the new bill.

In view of these facts, the GWU will intensify all its efforts so that MCED will be transformed into a body that really benefit all levels of our society and where certainly social dialogue takes place.

We are also preoccupied that though the government is paying lip service to the concept of social dialogue, in reality, events show the opposite. It is unbelievable that the government, instead of committing itself to real social dialogue, is taking the social partners for a ride.

Also, the GWU is worried with the increase of the use of security forces to get in the way during legitimate industrial action. The GWU was in fact a victim of such government strategy when in August 1999, the police and army were used to disrupt our legitimate industrial action.

At that time we called on ILO to investigate. ILO did and warned the government to refrain from obstructing trade union activity. ILO had also advised the government to negotiate rather than confront the unions.

Recently, however, the government ignored this advice and once again the state security forces were brought in to cancel trade union actions.

The GWU is committed to foster and not threaten industrial peace. Even in situations, which usually tend to result in industrial strife, we are trying to promote new ways through which industrial instability would be averted. A case in point is our idea to promote the setting up co-operatives to turn away privatisation of public entities.

My Union is also conscious of degrading working conditions forced on non-unionised workers. In the GWU’s traditional May Day message, I voiced our concern to the new trend that has reared its head in our island.

I was referring to the terrible conditions and miserable wages of illegal immigrant and foreign workers especially in the construction industry and the tourism sector.
We consider this as a new form of slavery and pledged to combat this situation in its entirety. I am pleased to say that our concerns have brought about positive reaction in the media and we have succeed in creating an awareness about the hidden social injustices at the place of work.

The GWU since its inception has been on the forefront to combat any form of exploitation. Our internationalist feelings urge us to support any struggle anywhere against exploitation whether of traditional workers, females and children.

Presently, we are part of the ICFTU’s international campaign to stop child labour.
We are pleased that last week the Government of Malta ratified the ILO Convention on Child Labour.

We feel now that the time is ripe for the international trade union movement to take action and agree upon a strategy of practical measures to combat all forms of child labour and forced labour.

The GWU will be there in the struggle for social justice.

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