23 JANUARY 2002
By Kurt Sansone
While a number of industrial and business operators saw governments change of heart on the sympathy strikes issue as a premature retreat, Social Policy Minister Lawrence Gonzi reiterated his stance that government did not back down from its proposals.
When asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times whether government backed down prematurely on the sympathy strikes issue and the definition of an industrial dispute, Dr Gonzi explained that government did not back down but was ready to clarify the definition if it needs clarification.
The original proposal submitted to Dr Gonzi by the MCESD included a change in definition of what constitutes a trade dispute, but stopped short of changing subsequent clauses granting unions immunity for acts done in connection with trade disputes.
According to the deputy Prime minister the MCESD amendment did not change the substance of the issue and described the current legislation as having a technical flaw.
"A secondary strike can never, in itself, be defined as a trade dispute since a sympathy strike can only take place if a trade dispute already exists. This is the point that needs to be clarified," Dr Gonzi elaborated.
Asked to specify what measure could be introduced to regulate sympathy strikes, Dr Gonzi remarked that the accepted rule is that a secondary strike can take place when and if there is a primary strike taking place.
"This is the point that needs to be addressed and made clear," Dr Gonzi stressed while pointing out that the white paper also talks about a more effective structure leading to mediation and conciliation.
The deputy prime minister also spelt out governments commitment to update Maltas labour laws before membership of the European Union, but insisted that the changes are also a question of necessity.
"Government is convinced that EU membership is in the best national interest. It is a process that will bring a leap in our quality of life in all aspects and guarantees the future well being of our families and their children. Updating our labour laws is an important part of this process and we have committed ourselves to do so before membership," Dr Gonzi explained.
However, he continued, "one must emphasise the fact that my government is also convinced that our economic well-being depends on our ability to have a workforce that responds to modern day challenges. This can only be achieved if we have a legal framework, which caters for the radical social and economic changes that have taken place and that are still taking place in our society. The stimulus for change is therefore also borne out of necessity."
Dr Gonzi emphasised that the EU social model is an established benchmark of minimum conditions of work that suit Maltas economic and social needs. "Ten years of discussions are enough and the time is now ripe for us to take the decisions that need to be taken," Dr Gonzi concluded.