8 October 2003

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Toon this week: Doing the dockyard shuffle

No more white elephants

The Malta Drydocks issue is a crucial one for these Islands and public interest will be intensified over the coming weeks. Finding good solutions for the shipyard and its workers is in the interest of the entire nation and nobody is suggesting that reform will be easy. Those involved in negotiations must be extremely careful not to suggest decisions that will leave us in a worse situation than we find ourselves in now.
The General Workers Union and the ministries for social policy and finance need to consider innovative ideas, but ensure the proposals made will improve Malta’s financial situation in the long run while ensuring that the impacts are not socially unacceptable.
The suggestion that a company may be set up to take on the 900 or so excessive employees from the yard, may sound attractive, but before it is taken any further, government should make its intentions clear and public.
Malta has had rough experiences with organisations set up to hide excessive unemployment figures, and since the government is already stating it will guarantee employment for the 900, one can only fear the worst.
The idea that work with the government is work for life is one that should no longer hold currency. It does not make good economic sense and cannot be defended as just. Employees in the public sector need to be treated to a bit of private sector incentive treatment, where targets are given and action taken depending on results achieved. And this should apply to the entire public sector.
Performance related reviews with the possibility of redundancy should become the norm for all employees, and given Malta’s dire economic straits, not to introduce such measures, and quickly, would be suicidal.
Woe betide that the 900 employees are transferred to some public private partnership or similar set up where management is handed over to the private sector and salaries are paid for by government. The wool would have been pulled over the public’s eyes.
Malta simply cannot afford to continue subsidising entities that are not commercially viable.
The image of both the union and the government would be highly enhanced if solutions are found to alleviate the countries financial burden. The shipyard employees should, of course, have their say and be offered the possibility to set up their own structures, provided that they carry the financial costs of the companies they set up.
The government and the union should be considering all the ideas brought to the discussion table including: early retirement; soft loans to groups of employees who agree to leave the yards and set up alone; and encouraging private companies to employ yard workers by offering financial incentives (in Italy companies were made exempt from paying tax contributions for one year after employing people from the public service).
The last thing Malta needs is more white elephants. Setting up a company which will need subsidising will not be helpful or acceptable. It is sincerely hoped the government has better ideas in mind.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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