26 SEPTEMBER 2001
By Miriam Dunn
The Drydocks council yesterday expressed its satisfaction at the governments decision to appoint a task force which will be drawing up a restructuring plan for the beleaguered yard.
The announcement that a task force, chaired by a yet-to-be-appointed minister, would oversee the drafting of the plan aimed at giving the Drydocks operations a much-needed overhaul, was made by the Prime Minister following Mondays Cabinet meeting.
Asked for his reaction, council secretary Victor Laiviera yesterday told The Malta Financial and Business Times: "We are glad that the government has accepted the councils recommendations to appoint a task force to define a restructuring plan for the yard."
Mr Laiviera also seemed confident that the task force should be able to put its plan into practice within the timeframe stipulated by the government.
"With goodwill on all sides, a plan can be defined in a few weeks," he said.
The Prime Minister had made it clear that his decision to resume government subsidies to the Drydocks was only on condition that a restructuring plan was set in motion within two months.
Asked what the Drydocks council views as the main criteria needed to help the yard become viable, Mr Laiviera cited staff numbers and working methods as two areas requiring attention. He also suggested ways of dealing with the social consequences of restructuring the yard, while stressing that this responsibility lies primarily with the government.
"MDD needs to right-size its workforce, introduce new work practices, a new disciplinary code and recruit apprentices," he said. "The social element of the MDD problem needs to be resolved through creative schemes aimed at cushioning the social impact of the restructuring.
"This is mainly a political responsibility which has to be shouldered by the government."
Asked how he reacted to the suggestion that the government should perhaps give assistance for specific contracts rather than continue to subsidise the debt-ridden yard in the way it does at present, Mr Laiviera stressed that the operations at the Drydocks were far from straightforward.
The Drydocks is a complex business that is ultimately judged by the end results of its commercial activity, he said. "I believe that like every other business we should prepare our business plan and ask government for support (subsidies) as long as we achieve our aims."
The three-pronged dispute between the government, the General Workers Union and the yards management flared up over a disagreement relating to sub contracting of work and management structures. A wave of vandalism from certain workers at the Drydocks led to a government decision to halt subsidies, although these have now been resumed pending the implementation of the restructuring plan.
This was not the first time that the government had taken a firm stand when there had been dissent with the Drydocks workers. Just a few months ago, Dr Fenech Adami went on national television saying he would close the debt-ridden yard if the employees refused to work on the American warship La Salle because of problems over the Constitutions neutrality clause.