By Karl Schembi
Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami called for “an end to confrontation and divisions” so that the country could “move forward” during a Union Haddiema Maghqudin General Conference yesterday.
Referring to UHM’s proposals for a social pact, the prime minister said: “Now we have a concrete document for all social partners to discuss in the country’s interests.”
He said that for social partners to agree on the social pact they would have to “abandon systems of confrontation and divisions” between workers, employers and the government, and link pay rises to productivity levels.
Opposition leader Alfred Sant, who was invited to speak about the social pact before Dr Fenech Adami, failed to turn up. UHM President Gejtu Tanti said he was informed that Dr Sant was on his way but by the end of the conference the Opposition leader had still not arrived.
Dr Sant’s personal assistant, Michelle Tanti, told The Malta Financial and Business Times later that the MLP leader could not attend because of “a personal problem beyond his control that cropped up at the eleventh hour”.
The prime minister said he was satisfied to see a leading union such as UHM take the initiative and launch a debate on the social pact although he added that he had not yet read the document.
The best infrastructure to discuss it is the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development, Dr Fenech Adami said.
“A social pact would assure that we get the best out of our human resources,” Dr Fenech Adami said. “It’s a logical step, in my opinion, as the time for short-term solutions is over.”
UHM Secretary General Gejtu Vella said the country was at a crossroads and decisions had to be taken.
“We have eradicated ‘us and them’ phrases, now it’s time to gain each other’s trust,” he said, referring to employers, unions, the government, opposition, AD, the Church and civil society.
Mr Vella said he hoped “parties would not launch an electoral campaign everyday” and warned them to “stop promising shelter to some parts of society when this was impossible to give”.
He said the Opposition leader had accepted the UHM’s invitation to participate on the MCESD but this was followed with “some not so clear signals” a few days later.
Mr Vella asked who was going to shoulder responsibility for more than Lm360 million government revenue that remained uncollected. He also asked who was responsible for a pay rise to AirMalta employees when it was clear this was unsustainable.
He criticised government agencies and authorities calling them “small gods appointed by the government” which were adding to the red tape and appealed to politicians to let the civil service work without any interfering.
He also made it clear his union would no longer tolerate empty talk about the country’s problems.
“We won’t let anyone say there are alternatives without telling us what they are,” Mr Vella said. “From now on, whoever says ‘no’ has to tell us what his alternatives are. … We have to make sure we convince the minority which still does not believe the social pact is a solution.”
Alternattiva Demokratika Chairman Harry Vassallo was far from optimistic. He lambasted the two major political parties for dividing the country.
While he had words of praise for UHM’s “courageous step” in taking the initiative and making its own proposals, Dr Vassallo said his party was not ready pretend there were no problems facing the country.
“We have a shocking situation … all of a sudden we’ve realised the health service and pensions are unsustainable, the dry-docks issue has been supposedly solved and government is saying it will stop all the misguided investments at Air Malta … I ask, who is Malta’s prime minister, Eddie Fenech Adami or Calisto Tanzi? Had our country been a company we would be under the magistrates’ investigation.”
Dr Vassallo said the government “had to lie” before the general election when it said that the country’s finances were sound because otherwise it would have lost it.
“I’m not criticising Dr Fenech Adami,” he added. “I’m criticising our political system.”
For the social pact to work, the country’s foundations needed to be changed, Dr Vassallo said. The government has to be truly transparent and publish all the information required by social partners.
The AD chairman said a change could happen on 12 June if the Green candidate for the European Parliament elections were to be elected.
“It will bring about political pluralism which is so badly needed here,” Dr Vassallo said. “If someone says that is not enough, I would say that is definitely not enough, but that’s all we can do to change the foundations.”