10 APRIL 2002
By Miriam Dunn
The government is aware of the problems that VRT operators are facing and has set up the necessary infrastructure to examine the difficulties they are experiencing, but is reluctant to interfere with the number of businesses operating since this goes against the principle of the free market.
These were the comments made by Transport Minister Censu Galea when asked to react to our recent report that the VRT garage owners were considering industrial action in protest at the governments delay in dealing with the problems they are encountering.
Struggling VRT operators, who are represented by the Association of General Retailers and Traders, have been calling on the government to help them reduce their costs, on the grounds that there is too much competition and not enough work.
The GRTU has also warned that the shortfall of work has led to abuse from some garages, who have made a heavy investment in equipment to be able to offer the service. It has called for a reduction in the Lm500 licence fee garage owners pay annually and a five-year moratorium on the issuing of new licences, which would then be reviewed.
Mr Galea said that the ministry has set up an advisory board and a joint committee with the GRTU to look at the difficulties the sector is experiencing and is aware of the specific complaints that operators are making.
"But we cannot put limitations on the number of garages operating, especially at a time when the emphasis is on opening up the market," he said. "The unhealthy impact on the economy that monopolies have had is still very fresh in our minds."
Mr Galea also highlighted the fact that when the VRT was first introduced, there were complaints that not enough operators were offering the service and that car owners were having to endure lengthy waits to have their vehicles tested.
"It is also somewhat surprising that operators are complaining of heavy losses when we still have new applicants who want to start up in this line of business," he added.
Last week the GRTU warned that VRT operators patience was now wearing thin and they were now being forced to consider more drastic action.
"Unless action is taken in the near future, they will be withdrawing their services as a form of protest," director general Vince Farrugia said.