27 MARCH 2002
The number of shipyard workers that have so far applied for the early retirement scheme stands at only just over one quarter of what the government had originally estimated.
Approximately 520 workers from the Malta Drydocks and Malta Shipbuilding have applied for the early retirement scheme, which is well off the 1,900 that the government was looking for initially.
General Workers Union' section secretary Tony Coleiro told the Malta Financial and Business Times that there have been 470 applications from the Drydocks and 50 from Malta Shipbuilding.
The government wants to downsize the workforce of both yards for them to become more competitive in line with the international problems dockyards are facing.
Mr Coleiro said that the majority of the workers who applied for the early retirement scheme are in the age bracket of 56 and over. Meanwhile those who apply as from next month will get a 10 per cent decrease on the bonuses and other benefits that are currently on offer. This means workers have got until tomorrow to ensure they get the best deal for themselves.
The GWU section secretary admitted that for this reason, he doesnt think many workers will apply after the end of the month. Highlighting the problems the Drydocks faces, he pointed out that unfortunately, some of the best workers are leaving the dockyard.
"One example is the first group of 10 welder/burners who left the yard more than three weeks ago," he said. "Six of them were amongst the best in the department."
Asked to comment about Drydocks chairman John Cassar Whites warning that time is running out for the yards if it is to compete, Mr Coleiro said he disagreed fundamentally with the statement.
"It would be much more useful to look at what is happening right now," he said. "Everything is running full speed ahead to ruin the yards in the least possible time, even though the chairman himself might not be fully aware of what is really happening."
Mr Coleiro said that the ruining of the 'yards has been on the agenda of the present government for a long time, and the highly publicised "restructuring" measures are doing nothing but hastening all this.
"The chairman keeps repeating that unless certain outdated work practices are changed, it will be practically impossible for the shipyards to compete. But I would like to hear the chairman say when and where he ever had a negative answer from the GWU when these 'outdated works practices' were discussed."
He challenged the chairman to confirm or deny that for the past three years the GWU has been begging the management to establish what is really expected from each worker during a day's work.
"How is it ever possible to give completion dates when no one really cares about establishing such fundamental objectives?" he asked. "Economic services minister Josef Bonnici was himself witness to this on several occasions, yet, like everyone else, he seems happy to see the 'yards fast ending up in ruins."
Mr Coleiro added that Mr Cassar Whites comments after the launching of the third Gozo Channel vessel, Malita, clearly showed that he was not aware of what was happening at the yards, when he spoke about the retirement schemes. He was quoted as saying that the 'yards couldnt afford to let go of skilled workers if they are to become competitive.
He recalled how the GWU agreed in the task force that the retirement schemes would be open to offers from February till the end of the coming May.
"Dr Gonzi, who was chairing the meeting asked both the chairman and the human resources executive who were present at the meeting, how much longer would be needed to go through all the applications and establish who would be accepted on the scheme and who wouldnt," he said. "Prior to all this, each departmental manager had gone through a strenuous exercise for all workers under his supervision to justify his reasons for refusing or accepting an application. All agreed that by the end of July, all applicants would be informed about their future."
He said the union agreed to this, emphasising that those who were to be refused early retirement should be given the reason why.
"But ever since the schemes started, we have constantly read in the press, especially those who are eager to see the closure of the yards, about the updated number of workers who have applied," he said. "What was really missing was the fact that most of them had actually left the yards and not just submitted their application.
Mr Coleiro stressed that at present, 327 from the 496 applications have already made their exit from the Drydocks. From these, most are highly skilled workers with a sizeable amount under the age of 40.
According to Mr Coleiro: "Who needs to wait for the end of next July, unless it is going to be established that time is running out for ruining the yards?"