29 AUGUST 2001

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Dalli says Civil service salaries adequate

By Kurt Sansone

Following the salary rises and corrective measures agreed to last year for civil service employees, government does not see the need to give further salary rises in the forthcoming collective agreement, which is due by the beginning of next year.

When asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times whether government was contemplating a wage freeze for the civil service, Finance Minister John Dalli, reiterated government’s belief that the current wage levels for civil service employees are adequate and should remain valid for the next three years.

"I would not call it a wage freeze," he insisted. Mr Dalli continued, "furthermore, the concept of equating collective agreements with salary rises is an outdated one."

Asked about the discussions on the collective agreement for the period 2002-2004, Mr Dalli expressed his wish for the discussions with the unions to start as soon as possible. The current collective agreement expires by the end of the year and it is the minister’s intention to reach an agreement before January 2002.

Meanwhile, contacted by The Malta Financial and Business Times, Union Haddiema Maghqudin section secretary Mario Sacco said that the union has very recently asked government to clarify the intentions behind some of the proposals it sent the UHM earlier this month.

"We expect to start the discussions soon after we get the clarifications," Mr Sacco said. The union official told the newspaper that claims for the revision of civil service salaries were part of the UHM’s proposals.

When asked to comment on government’s intention not to give salary rises before 2005, Mr Sacco cautiously remarked that at this stage it was too early to comment on such a matter. "The negotiations have not yet started and in every collective agreement both sides start off with their respective positions. If government will continue saying no to the revision of salaries before 2005, we will act according to the progress of the negotiations."

However, Mr Sacco expressed his worry that such a wage freeze could create a precedent by having salary revisions done in alternate collective agreements.

According to statistics released by the National Statistics Office in March this year, public sector employment amounts to 48,345 of which 30,773 work directly with the civil service.

The March figures show a slight decline in both public sector and civil service employment over the same figures released in February.

NSO statistics also show that the major increase in government expenditure for the first seven months of this year was reported under the Personal Emoluments – salaries and wages - category. This category increased its expenditure by Lm13.9 million due to the increase in the salary scales following the civil service collective agreement implemented last year. According to the Budget estimates, the wage bill for the public sector is expected to be in excess of Lm195 million.

The number of employees in the public sector represents 34% of the gainfully occupied. When asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times whether government had any end-of-year targets to continue reducing public sector employment, Minister Dalli said that it was difficult to forecast any specific targets, however various measures were being taken.

Mr Dalli explained, "The privatisation process is expected to reduce the number of public sector employees. Furthermore, in grades that are overstaffed, we are not replacing people who have retired. Government’s eventual target is to have public sector employment amount to between 25% and 30% of the gainfully occupied."

Queried about the privatisation process, Mr Dalli confirmed that by the end of the year, the Lotto Department, Malta Freeport Corporation and Malta International Airport will be privatised. As regards government’s 25% shareholding in Bank of Valletta, the minister confirmed that an evaluation exercise has started for the eventual sale of the stake.

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