11 May 2005


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Unions discuss referendum trade-off

James Debono

During yesterday’s edition of TV programme Int X’Tahseb? the Secretary General of the General Workers Union Tony Zarb revealed that trade unions are ready to give up the public holidays referendum if the government accepts “a set of proposals drawn up by the trade unions.”
With an explosive referendum on one hand and an olive branch in the other, the GWU seems determined to press on with its campaign to force the government to reverse its measure on public holidays.
“We will tell the government that we have not just come before you to press with our referendum. We are also ready to reach an agreement,” explained Zarb during yesterday’s edition of Int X’Tahseb?
This signals a renewed attempt towards trade union unity following the breakdown of talks on the social pact in January.
The trade union front fell apart last January during talks on the social pact, with the General Workers Union adopting a more intransigent stand than the CMTU and other unions.
The new trade union proposals “will ensure that the burden is shared by everyone” insisted Zarb.
Throughout the programme Zarb insisted the referendum proposal is endorsed by all trade unions and not just by the GWU.
The proposal to link the public holidays issue with the idea of a national agreement was proposed by CMTU President John Bencini during a meeting in which the three union confederations participated.
Contacted by The Malta Financial and Business Times John Bencini confirmed that during these meetings, the CMTU insisted that instead of making a “crusade” against the government’s leave measure, “the trade unions should tie this issue with a package of measures which would help in making Malta more competitive. This will help in resurrecting the idea of a national agreement.”
Asked on the CMTU’s stand on the proposed referendum to abrogate the government measure on public holidays, Bencini insisted that the referendum idea was first proposed by the General Workers Union.
“The General Workers Union expressed their willingness to work hand in hand with the other trade unions on this matter. Various meetings between the unions were held on this issue and our lawyers have advised us that holding this referendum is possible”
Bencini insisted that while the CMTU never said no to the proposed referendum it had also proposed that this issue should be tied with a wide ranging proposal.
Distancing himself from the General Workers Union Bencini insisted that had everybody agreed with the social pact, workers would have only lost two days of leave a year in the next four years. “Following these four years, we would have returned to the negotiating table.”
While the GWU seems to be as determined as before in the face of the Prime Minister’s declaration that the government would legislate to remove public holidays altogether if the referendum on public holidays takes place, the CMTU and the UHM are more wary.
“We have to ask ourselves whether the situation of our members will worsen if the referendum is approved,” said Bencini
Contacted by this newspaper UHM general secretary Gejtu Vella confirmed that his union is participating in talks with the GWU and other unions on the referendum proposal.
But he also expressed his concern on the Prime Minister’s declaration.
“We are holding internal discussions on whether holding this referendum will be beneficial to our members. If the referendum passes and the government legislates to reduce public holidays the burden on our members will only increase.”

jdebono@newsworksltd.com



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