By Kurt Sansone
Describing the industrial action ordered by the GWU at the Drydocks last week as a pantomime, Investments Minister Austin Gatt yesterday accused the Union’s Drydocks section of pandering to the interests of a very small group of employees to the detriment of the 1,700-strong workforce.
“Who is truly at the helm of the General Workers’ Union?” Gatt asked yesterday referring to the work-to-rule directive that was ordered last week at the Drydocks and withdrawn a couple of days later.
The minister explained that the GWU Drydocks section had ordered its members to resort to industrial action over disagreement on a particular clause in the collective agreement signed in November 2003. He added that despite having already scheduled a meeting with GWU deputy secretary general Manuel Micallef to discuss the outstanding issue, the union’s section still went ahead with its work-to-rule directive.
The meeting between Gatt and Micallef is scheduled to take place later on today. It comes after Government signalled its intention of suing the union for damages to the tune of Lm50,000 sustained because of the abusive industrial action.
“The only issue up for discussion is the clause in the collective agreement that talks of a multi-skill allowance. I will only sue the union if ship owners sue the Drydocks as a result of delays caused by last week’s industrial action,” Gatt said when asked whether today’s meeting will also discuss the legal measure that seriously threatens the GWU’s finances.
Addressing a press conference yesterday during which he presented unaudited management accounts of Malta Shipyards Ltd for 2004, Gatt said the drydocks could have a bright future ahead of it if all employees realise the importance of greater flexibility.
“Industrial action such as that which occurred last week does not help,” Gatt warned. He insisted that unless the reform package agreed to in 2003 between Government and the GWU was implemented to the letter, the drydocks would fail to become competitive.
“Unless the reform package is implemented as a whole the drydocks is in trouble. We are risking everything because of a couple of hot heads. Government will not fork out one cent more in subsidies than that agreed to in 2003. If the drydocks does not improve its performance it will go bankrupt,” Gatt insisted.
Asked by The Malta Financial and Business Times whether Government was considering closing the dockyard once and for all, the minister said it was not Government’s intention.
“For the good of the country and because there is a social aspect to it, Government has no intention of closing the dockyard. Extremist solutions are not on our agenda. We don’t want to close the ‘yard but we also don’t want to be blackmailed by the demands of a very few,” Gatt said.
He reiterated that the key to turning things around at the loss-making ‘yard was the gradual reform process to which the GWU agreed in 2003.
“I understand that the average take-home pay for employees at the dockyards has gone down by around 50 per cent but employees have to realise that unless they are flexible the drydocks will fail.”
In 2004 the drydocks made Lm1 million less in losses than what was anticipated. The result was described by the company’s chairman, John Cassar White as encouraging.
Also present for yesterday’s press conference was Malta Dockyards CEO Peter Moore, who insisted that implementing the reform package was an urgent matter since international competition was very aggressive.