27 January 2005

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Old dogs, new tricks

End this uncertainty
The protracted talks amongst the social partners, the countless hours of discussions and the lack of a sense of urgency are leading to yet further uncertainty. Nothing harms economic progress more in a country than a sense of unease caused by not knowing what will be decided, and when things will finally be decided. Companies cannot even forward-plan their employee's leave. In the last few days while the social partners have been trying to iron out a workable solution to the economic situation facing our country people have been kept totally in the dark and the press has patronisingly been asked to remain patient lest they hamper the possibilities of an agreement. The chances of agreement are looking very fluid. It is anxiously hoped that in the next few days sufficient leadership and vision is displayed by the social partners and by government to make agreement possible. This can only be reached in an atmosphere of mutual respect where all sides give and take and most especially where the national interest is placed before sectarian interests. The basis for such an agreement must however take cognisance of today's' harsh economic realities.
It is our belief that government should have won the backing of the social partners prior to including the reduction of the number of holidays in its budget. Much uncertainty would have been spared as it is all too clear that the unions would look at the number of holidays as an acquired right. Such rights are rarely renounced without a trade off. Having said that it is surprising that the unions themselves have not realised that the reduction of leave days is also a sure way of guaranteeing jobs. The cost of labour in our country has soared over the years, increases have been given which outflanked increases in productivity and ironically the public and not the private sector is the wage setter in this country! In such circumstances government is right to give the social partners time to come to an agreement, however time is fast running out and it is now in the national interest that agreement is reached failing which the show must go on with or without a social pact.
It is time for leadership, a time to see the big picture and tackle a dire situation before it gets out of hand. The economic situation characterised by a huge deficit cannot be corrected by a few symbolic gestures, many of which fail to win the agreement of both sides. These are economic times calling out for surgical intervention. The forfeiture of a few days leave is minuscule next to all the surgical interventions which need to take place amongst which are the consequences of carrying a bloated public sector. Herein lays the real malaise of our economy and wonder of wonders it is not even on the agenda of the social partners. The country cannot afford to carry such a wage bill. Until the problem is addressed, little progress will be registered. Incentives have to be found in earnest to favour the voluntary movement of persons employed in the public sector into the private sector.
We fear that agreement is also being held up out of pique, such a failing trait in our national DNA. It is time to intervene surgically before it is too late.

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Editor: Saviour Balzan
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