Discussions on the next collective agreement for public sector employees, which have expired in December 2004, are in full swing to the extent that a meeting between the government and the unions is scheduled for the last week of August.
According to the secretary of the government employees’ section of the Union Haddiema Maqghudin Mario Sacco, discussions have continued during the summer and progress has been registered in spite of initial difficulties.
“The basis of an agreement is materialising,” Sacco told The Malta Financial and Business Times. But Sacco would not elaborate on the details.
In the last collective agreement, public service employees had benefited from a substantial pay rise.
Asked whether the UHM was ready to accept the removal of the controversial summer half days for government employees, Mario Sacco insisted that in the past the UHM was ready to do away with half days only where a justification for doing so existed.
Sacco mentioned examples where the UHM accepted doing away with half days. “In Heritage Malta we accepted that summer is the peak season for museums and historical sites and it did not make sense to have half days. We have also accepted this principle for employees in the passport office,” added Sacco.
Yet Sacco insisted that there were government departments where it made no sense to do away with half days. He also insisted that all workers with the public sector were working forty hours.
“They work an extra three quarters of an hour in winter in order to benefit from summer half days.”
Asked on whether it was fair that workers on half days are also paid for overtime, Sacco insisted that this was rarely the case in government departments.
Sacco insisted that over time statistics presented last year were misleading as they contained overtime performed by the police force whose workload increases during summer.
Civil service reform
While negotiating the new public service collective agreement, government is also in the process of drafting a new law which will bring about radical change in the way the civil service recruits new employees.
Speaking to MaltaToday Mario Sacco, expressed disappointment on the slow pace of reform, which first saw the light when Eddie Fenech Adami was still Prime Minister.
In spite of the fact that the general public, public service officials and constituted bodies were invited to give their reactions on the White Paper by February 2004, a spokesperson for the OPM had informed this newspaper that “stakeholders comments have been collated” and are still “being reviewed.”
According to Mario Sacco the only thing which has materialised so far from the white paper is the position of the main permanent secretary for the whole civil service, “a positive step but a wrong signal when one considers that this reform has been done in isolation from other reforms.”
One of the most radical reforms proposed by the white paper is that heads of departments will have the facility to create positions according to their departments' needs and to engage employees in positions rather than grades.
Mario Sacco explained that the Union Haddiema Maqghudin considers the employment of new recruits by Heads of Department as a positive change,
“In this way employees would be employed for a particular job rather than being enlisted by the whole civil service for an undefined role.”
But Sacco insisted that this should not be interpreted to mean that inferior conditions are offered to workers employed by heads of department.
The UHM is insisting on the equal pay for an equal job principle.
“Workers employed in a particular position should enjoy the same conditions as workers doing similar work elsewhere in the civil service.”
According to the UHM sectoral agreements covering a particular category in the civil service should apply to those hired by a particular department.
Asked whether the UHM agreed with definitive contracts in the civil service, Mario Sacco insisted that it should be made clear to these workers that they are being hired for a limited amount of time.
“What we should avoid is that these workers are given the impression that they are being employed permanently.”
One important innovation enshrined in the white paper is the protection of whistle blowers who report wrongdoing in the civil service, from victimisation. But the UHM is insisting that the phrase protection from victimisation is too vague and this particular aspect of the proposed law should be amplified.
The White Paper also proposed the creation of a Ministry responsible for the civil service. The UHM welcomes the creation of a new ministry, as this would give the civil service a reference point.
“In this way unions would be able to deal with one Minister rather than a myriad of ministers with sometimes conflicting interests.”
The UHM is also insisting that the industrial and employment relations act also apply to public sector employees.
“This would give government employees employed on contract basis greater protection.”
Overall the UHM considers the proposals in the white paper as positive, bringing greater efficiency and accountability and less political interference.