05 November 2003

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Government regales taxpayer with dockyards’ burden

By Matthew Vella
A photo opportunity for the press and drinks for the Prime Minister and General Workers’ Union boss Tony Zarb was all the media would get during the signing of the "historic" collective and restructuring agreement between the government and the union.
It was left up to Social Policy Minister Lawrence Gonzi to confirm yesterday in Parliament the media’s worst fears that the new collective agreement was to be nothing but a mass wage increase for dockyard workers. A Lm1.50 wage increase, performance-related and training-related bonuses, first revealed in The Times a week ago, were announced by Gonzi yesterday as the new changes within the collective agreement.
But more disconcerting would be the new shift allowance system which should replace overtime, confirmed to The Malta Financial and Business Times by GWU secretary general Tony Zarb that if workers stop work at 14.00hrs due to lack of work, they would still be paid their shift allowance.
Once again another golden handshake where so much public disapproval can be expected as news leaks emerged of a budget that is could be expected to further burden the middle classes, who are now expected to pay for the wage increases of the two new companies which will take in the workers from the former Malta Drydocks and Malta Shipbuilding.
Lawrence Gonzi yesterday presented a motion in Parliament to liquidate Malta Drydocks and Malta Shipbuilding and instead create the two new companies which will absorb the 2,600 workers. These are Malta Shipyards Ltd (MSL), which will take in 1,700 ‘first-choice’ workers, and the Industrial Projects and Services Ltd (IPSL) which will take the remaining workers from the surplus 900 after they will be offered retirement schemes and secondments in the public sector and public-private partnerships (PPP).
The workers will be notified as soon as possible of their new workplaces, whilst the surplus 900 will be offered four retirement schemes: a retirement scheme on a two-thirds pension for those aged 56 and over; 15 weeks’ pay for every year to those aged 50 and 55, with an option for a two-thirds pension when they reach 56; those aged between 40 and 49 will be offered an ex-gratia payment equivalent to 3.25 times their current basic salary, capped at Lm17,000; those under 40 will be offered eight week’s pay for every year of service capped at Lm12,000 for those with more than 15 years service or Lm10,000 with less, at a minimum of Lm5,000.
These workers have two weeks to decide whether they will take up the retirement scheme. In the forthcoming four weeks form this deadline, the IPSL management will analyse the remaining workers to commence their secondment into the public sector or the PPP. Gonzi said MIMCOL had undertaken to keep vacant places within the public sector to accommodate these workers to areas in which the state was interested in an effective redeployment of human resources.
The Times have quantified the schemes at Lm7 million, in addition to the Lm310 million in debt accumulated by the drydocks and Malta Shipbuilding which will be written off by the government.
Gonzi said workers chosen to work at MSL or IPSL were decided upon according to a 2001 exercise first started by the companies’ management which assessed experience, disposition to training, flexibility and adaptability to work and projected manning levels for the two new companies. This exercise has been updated regularly up to the signing of the agreement.
Government will be renting out all fixed assets to the new companies whilst retaining complete control of Dock no 1, to develop it as part of the Cottonera Regeneration Project as a national development project.

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