• Government sticks to November deadline for agreement
• Other operators to be considered if bus drivers fail to respond to reform document
The dispute between bus drivers and the government carried on yesterday with the Transport Minister reiterating his 1 November deadline for an agreement, after which he will be considering other bus operators instead of their syndicate, the Public Transport Association.
“Time is running out,” Transport Minister Jesmond Mugliett told reporters yesterday. “I have an agreement signed last year which I’m prepared to follow to the full.”
He said that according to last year’s agreement, drivers have 90 days since last 3 August – when the public transport reform report was presented by foreign consultants Halcrow – to negotiate the new public transport reforms.
“It is up to them whether after these 90 days I will keep considering the transport association as the exclusive operator of Malta’s public transport, if at all,” the minister said. “That’s all in the agreement and I can start considering other operators.”
The association yesterday announced it was ready to suspend its industrial actions as long as government gave it three months to study the Halcrow report – which took 10 months to be compiled – before negotiating the new reform.
“We have an agreement that as soon as the report is ready and passed on to the association there would be 90 days of discussions, and we don’t feel we have to lengthen that period,” the minister replied. “We’re going to remain tough and we won’t give in much on this, maybe some days but definitely not another three months.”
Speaking about the subsidies request made by the bus drivers’ representatives for 2005, the minister said: “If we’re going to discuss the Lm1.4 million subsidy for this year, then we’re not ready to discuss it on its own. We will only discuss it in a wider and long-term framework. We wish to have a formal agreement for five years. We’re committed to discuss first with the association as stakeholder, and we’ll walk the extra mile to reach an agreement on public transport reform, but we’re not ready to be subjected to a lot of rigidity. If they’re unreasonable we’re committed to explore other alternatives, including other operators. Last year’s agreement states all this on black and white.”
The association in turn accused the minister of being too rigid, a charge which Mugliett did not deny.
“The situation demands that government holds a strong position on this one,” he said.
About the workers made redundant by the association, Mugliett said: “I’m informed that workers who have been made redundant were some part-timers; we’re still seeking information about the two full timers who were sacked. I think there’s some bluff involved because they may be workers whom the association wanted to get rid of anyway. Definitely if they keep sacking employees to the extent that public transport could not be managed, if we get a breakdown in the service, that would be unacceptable and then we would have to consider whether to escalate actions from our side.”
Meanwhile, yesterday government started providing an emergency bus service towards St Luke’s Hospital, a route that was suspended in protest by the public transport association, apart from all other bus routes after 8pm except routes 11, 19, 22, 45, 48, 49, 62 and 70.