31 OCTOBER 2001

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No ransom notes, please

That the public sector pay roll has too many names on it is unlikely to be denied by anyone. How to reduce it without taking action that would be suicidal to any government that wants to be re-elected is the challenge.

The Finance minister has said that the public sector complement is going down, obviously through natural wastage, but worryingly, the price it costs us is not. What does that mean? In essence, that the pay rises the government employees are being awarded are still too big to help the government in its bid to reduce public expenditure.

Many workers in the private sector have been experiencing a freeze in pay rises. Some employers may have been forced to offer certain incentives to employees to make good the loss of fringe benefit perks, which, in the eyes of the worker, constituted a pay drop. But generally speaking, a pay rise is linked with the company’s performance and, on a wider scale, the state of the economy.

Finance Minister John Dalli has made it clear that in the same way, the public sector workers, or, more particularly, their unions, cannot detach the state of the country’s finances from their pay rise requests.

And in the same breath, the government cannot be held to ransom by them. When it comes to negotiating new packages for the public sector, a note of fear seems to creep into the players from the government side, echoes of 30,000 votes to be won or lost. But the general public are, at last, making the link between the ever-growing deficit and the huge public sector workforce which, along with social services, are by far the two major expenses.

Just as the government should not be held to ransom, the unions cannot detach themselves from the reality of the situation. Rather than worrying about retaining their popularity with members when negotiating new packages, they must face the facts about the economy.

As much as we need the unions to be realistic, we also need them to be flexible. The Finance Minister, in keeping with other experts, has made it clear that along with controlled pay increases, one of the other keys to curbing public expenditure is better utilisation of manpower. There have been many scenarios depicting the extent to which human resources in the public sector could be used better. Handymen twiddling their thumbs in one government department who cannot be transferred to another and the dubious reasons as to why government workers shouldn’t have to do a full day in summer are two cases in point.

Never before has flexibility and the need for synergy between the social partners been more apparent in the private sector. The sooner we see evidence of this pattern being reproduced in the public sector, the better.

The graduates’ communication chain

More students are coming out of university each year, with very specific qualifications and specialisation.

Some of those graduates have known for years that they want to teach, be a doctor or an architect, and hope that their graduation will signal an entry into that chosen career.

But these lifelong dreams and somewhat blinkered vision is, unfortunately, taking little account of the changing needs and requirements of the workplace.

Malta has a dearth of workers in certain skills, while it is having to deal with a surplus of ironically well-qualified personnel in other sectors.

As we move nearer to our European Union bid and look at how we will be hoping to attract foreign investment, the issue of ensuring that our human resources will be able to fit the bill becomes even more acute.

The key to success is making sure that there is a crystal clear chain of communication, from the student bodies and university to the workplace and industry, via other important players, such as the ETC, along the way.

The opportunities should come, if we make Malta an attractive and credible hub. But we have to make sure we maximise them.


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