27 FEBRUARY 2002
Government pussyfoots around dockyard
An additional Lm800,000 for dockyard workers in service bonuses (ex gratia sum)
By Ray Abdilla and Kurt Sansone
Dockyard workers aged 56 and over opting for an early retirement scheme were going to lose the customary Lm2,000 service bonus but in a sudden change of heart that could cost taxpayers an additional Lm800,000, government has decided to offer an ex gratia sum equivalent to the bonus.
In a glaring retreat, governments decision comes only two weeks after Social Policy Minister Lawrence Gonzi told The Malta Financial and Business Times that the early retirement scheme is a "full and final settlement and therefore no additional payments are envisaged."
Questions faxed to Dr Gonzi yesterday by The Malta Financial and Business Times, on governments change of heart remained unanswered until the time of going to print.
The service bonus issue was a stickling point for dockyard employees eligible for Scheme A for those aged 56 and over. But as of last Monday, after governments change of heart, around 45 workers applied for the retirement scheme.
These workers will be eligible for the ex gratia bonus, which is the same amount of money that the workers were going to get for the service bonus.
Meanwhile, speaking to The Malta Financial and Business Times, Drydocks Secretary Tony Coleiro yesterday said that all government did was change the name from service benefit to ex gratia.
"Obviously, we made certain that the sum taken by the workers would be the same, and that is what has happened. Why the government changed the name of these so called service benefits, I dont know," Mr Coleiro remarked.
He also said that for almost a month since the early retirement schemes were introduced only three workers had applied for Scheme A. Mr Coleiro continued, "We knew all along that not many workers will participate because no one wants to lose money. At last government woke up and realised all this and has changed its mind."
In a fresh twist to the Dockyard saga the General Workers Union yesterday reacted harshly to Dr Gonzis remarks in Parliament that if the targets set for the Dockyard to become financially viable were not reached Yard workers would have to contend with a reduced working week.
The union condemned Dr Gonzis remarks and denied that a reduced working week was ever discussed in the Drydocks Task Force.
Governments aim is to reduce the dockyard work force by half through the various retirement schemes adopted at the beginning of the year.