The General Workers’ Union is stepping up pressure on the government following inconclusive talks with the Ministry for Investments, Industry and Information Technology, saying it would fight for its right to industrial action and that it would not be intimidated by the government’s tactics.
GWU Secretary-General Tony Zarb said the Union would be calling for a meeting with the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development as well as with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi to say that it finds it unacceptable that Enemalta employees were suspended during industrial action ordered by the Union.
Union officials yesterday said that the government’s interference in the industrial dispute had sabotaged what was a dispute with Enemalta management that could have been solved “in 30 minutes”.
Officials said it was not up to the government to declare whether the industrial action it took at Enemalta last week was illegitimate or not. The union wants the government to declare that workers who obeyed the Union’s directives and stopped filling in fuel chits at Enemalta’s aviation division are not to be considered suspended and have their wages deducted.
Talks between the two sides however proved inconclusive, but the union is standing its ground and has declared there would be no compromise on the issue.
Tony Zarb said the Union’s national council was unanimous in its declaration that Government’s actions were “unacceptable”. He said ETUC secretary-general John Monks was being kept updated of the ongoing situation.
The Union now plans to bring up the issue at the MCESD and with the Prime Minister, as well as inform all employers to say it is ready to take workers out on sympathy action in all workplaces where the union is represented, in defence of its right to industrial action, when it considers to be to their benefit.
Zarb did not rule out holding a general strike. He said Government’s actions were threatening workers’ right to industrial action after Enemalta workers at its aviation division were suspended for refusing to fill in fuel chits after the company’s consultants claimed the action was a threat to safety at Malta International Airport where Enemalta is the only provider of fuel for aircraft.
“Government has to declare itself clearly that the workers who took part in industrial action cannot be considered to have been suspended. The union sees this is as a threat and is showing its solidarity with the workers who have been affected by this decision.”
Zarb said the union is determined on the issue and would be informing all of its members of the current situation. “We have already had to defend the right to a sympathy strike when the Employment and Industrial Relations Act was being discussed. The union was strong on that issue. Current developments are now showing that the government is ready to attack the sacrosanct right for workers to take part in industrial action.”
In a letter to Tony Zarb, Investments Minister Austin Gatt said the union’s directives at Enemalta had been illegitimate because the union had not respected the collective agreement. According to Gatt, the union had not called for conciliatory meeting prior to taking industrial action and that essential services had been stopped when this goes against the agreement.
“I understand that the union does not agree with this interpretation and that is why Government and Enemalta have invited the union to leave it in the hands of the Industrial Tribunal to decide who is right on this issue. As it was emphasised throughout the meetings, Government respects this institutions and binds itself to implement its decision.”
Union officials said only partial industrial action had been taken at Enemalta.
Austin Gatt also told Tony Zarb that it was not the first time that the union’s section leaders had ignored the collective agreement when it came to order industrial action. “This happened a month ago at the Malta Shipyards, two weeks ago at Maltapost, and now at Enemalta. I cannot but notice that there is a pattern that is happening for ulterior motives.”
Zarb shot down Gatt’s comments, saying that this issue had nothing to do with industrial action elsewhere.
Austin Gatt wrote that the two sides were agreeing on principle but not on the legitimacy or not of the actions. “I believe that the best way to solve this issue to leave it in the hands of somebody independent to decide and as an act of goodwill I am inviting you to choose an arbiter who is agreed upon between us, the Courts or the Industrial Tribunal.”
Gatt said that if the decision would be taken against Government and Enemalta, it would pay not only what is due to the workers but also with interest and any further damages.