By Matthew Vella
The General Workers Union has informed its workers that it would be issuing the first of its national scale directives on Monday, in response to the suspension of Enemalta workers who were engaged in industrial action on directives issued by the GWU.
Secretary-General Tony Zarb said yesterday the Union had notified all employers of industrial action to take place on Monday. The Union will be meeting Prime Minister and Finance Minister Lawrence Gonzi tomorrow to discuss the pending situation of Enemalta workers who were suspended during an industrial action at the corporation’s aviation and generation divisions.
The Malta Employers Association reacted to the GWU’s notice of industrial action, saying its members should not be affected by the Union’s dispute and be dragged into it despite Enemalta being a member of the MEA. In a letter to Tony Zarb, the MEA said its members would be protecting their interests in the face of industrial action.
“MEA accepts that there is a right to sympathy industrial action, which can be ordered by a trade union as well as an employers' association,” Arthur Muscat, the MEA’s president, said.
“Therefore the MEA on behalf of its now affected members, hereby gives you notice that action in retaliation may be taken by those companies you have notified. Member companies, and any other company that may be affected by this action, are being directed to take those measures, which they deem required under the circumstances to protect their interests.”
The letter was also sent to the Director of Employment and Industrial Relations.
The Federation of Industry has also objected to the Union's intention to call sympathy action, saying there would be negative economic and social repercussions should industrial activity be disrupted.
Unions, the FOI said, were expected to use their right to order strikes "with great responsibility" after having exhausted all other possibilities to solve the dispute amicably.
Tony Zarb said employers and their associations should be sending messages to the Prime Minister instead of to the Union, so they can bring about convergence from the side of the government.
“We have given a clear message that the Union will never accept that workers in an industrial action are suspended,” Zarb said.
On 17 March Enemalta temporarily suspended aviation section workers who had obeyed union directives not to fill in aircraft refuelling chits in protest at the corporation's "unwillingness" to meet over pending issues.
Advised by their consultants that the directives were "a threat to flight safety", Enemalta halted aircraft refuelling at Malta International Airport and sent the workers home without pay.
The Union eventually lifted its directives and Enemalta readmitted the workers but subsequent talks broke down after the two parties failed to agree on whether the suspension of workers who were obeying the directive was legal.
On Monday Enemalta's legal representatives filed a judicial application at the Industrial Tribunal asking it to take up the case of the workers' suspension.
The government said the corporation was filing the application "as a sign of goodwill" and that the union would be showing disrespect to the tribunal were it to go ahead with its actions instead of waiting for the decision.
The government had made an offer to the union to resolve the issue at the Industrial Tribunal, through an independent arbiter chosen by both parties or in court. It had proposed that the party losing the case would pay the workers' wages as well as financial compensation to Enemalta.