this week: Drydocks - hard hit lately
unsustainable economy seriously
After the summer holiday government is showing
the first signs of getting back to business, and has indicated that
it is not afraid to tackle the harder stumbling blocks.
The financial situation of the country does not leave the government
with many alternatives, and with each passing week news about our economy
does not get any rosier.
The truth must be said that the Nationalist party in government has
never before tried to tackle the problems at our shipyards properly.
A political decision was taken, based partially on fear that a PN government
could never get the Drydocks management to actuate serious reform, to
subsidise the docks rather than face redundancies and civil unrest.
It was deemed more convenient to pump public funds into a dying enterprise.
It was only after Labours stint in government that the Nationalists
realised the playing field had changed. Alfred Sant sent out clear indications
that his intention was to reform the Drydocks, leaving the PN in the
enviable position of being able to implement reform without attracting
the wrath of the Opposition.
But the PN in government has rarely shown its mettle in actuating major
reforms and has always been a party that sought compromise.
Now it is more than clear that subsidising the Drydocks cannot continue
and the PN will have to face in the next few years all that it failed
to do in the past 16 or so.
The stalemate between government and GWU is not expected to last long
and the government must set out an agenda and timeframe for change with
people appointed to ensure targets are reached.
The Drydocks has now become the PN governments favourite punching
bag ahead of major electoral appointments. It has become a winning card
in the face of waning electoral support. But while the Drydocks, for
historical political reasons, and the very large subsidy has remained
a main focus of attention, it would be wrong to assume that it is the
only area of government responsibility that needs radical reform. All
the parastatal organisations need a long hard look at, and special attention
should be given to ensure all enjoy lean and appropriately paid management.
Any suggestion of a wage freeze for Drydocks employees reminds us all
of the Mintoff years and while keeping the total wage bill under control
should be a stated aim, freezing everybodys wages may not be the
best option as it can lead to greater inefficiency and greater losses
for the yard. The government would do better to tie wages to efficiency
The GWU must also shoulder its responsibility and refrain from demanding
wage increases across the board.
Unions cannot continue to be seen to obstruct what can only be beneficial
for the country. The General Workers Union is called upon to make practical
suggestions and accept that the country cannot continue supporting an
industry that costs the Maltese public up to Lm20 million yearly.