Italian shipping operator Grimaldi was yesterday “sitting and waiting” as the GWU was engaged in difficult internal discussions aimed at saving the livelihood of 114 workers.
Speaking to Business Today on the eve of today’s deadline for the privatisation of Sea Malta both GWU Secretary General Tony Zarb and Grimaldi’s representative Ernest Sullivan did not exclude brokering an agreement at the eleventh hour.
But until yesterday evening both parties had no scheduled meetings between them after on Monday the Italian company rejected a second proposal put forward by the GWU on working conditions for Sea Malta’s seamen.
If an agreement is not reached, the government has already committed itself to proceed with the liquidation of the company.
Last week Minister Austin Gatt had said that liquidation proceedings had already commenced just in case privatisation falls through.
The bone of contention between the GWU and Grimaldi is the seafarers' tour of duty.
Talking to Business Today, GWU Secretary General Tony Zarb acknowledged that the union is in a difficult position since Sea Malta’s land-based workers and its seamen had adopted “two different positions”.
While the land-based employees have largely accepted the conditions offered by Grimaldi, sea-based workers are resisting Grimaldi’s proposal of a four months-on/two months-off or two months-on/one month-off tour of duty.
Grimaldi is insisting that Maltese sea-based workers should enjoy the conditions offered to other seamen employed by the Italian company. On the other hand the GWU has had assurances from Italian trade unions that they will not object if Maltese workers are afforded different conditions.
All throughout yesterday the GWU was engaged in internal discussions with the aim of finding a solution to the impasse.
Grimaldi’s local representative Ernest Sullivan said he was constantly in touch with Emmanuele Grimaldi and described the Italian’s position as a “sit and wait” one.
“Nobody could blame Grimaldi if the company decides to pull out of the agreement at this stage,” Sullivan told Business Today.
The MLP’s position
And controversy over Sea Malta’s future has also embroiled the Labour Party. Labour leader Alfred Sant has declared that if government liquidates and dismantles Sea Malta, a future Labour government would create a new Sea Malta.
Speaking to Business Today yesterday, MLP Deputy Leader Charles Mangion clarified the party’s position, saying that the MLP is not committed to recreate Sea Malta if the privatisation process goes through.
If the shipping line is privatised, a future MLP government will not re nationalise the company, Mangion said.
If Sea Malta is privatised the MLP will ensure that sea links which are considered to have a strategic importance “are maintained at competitive rates at all times by the operator at the time.”
Asked by Business Today whether MLP leader Alfred Sant had consulted the party’s executive or parliamentary group before committing a future Labour government to resurrect the national shipping line, Mangion insisted that the position of the MLP as expressed by Dr Sant emanates from the document entitled Plan for Economic and Social Regeneration approved in July 2005.
The document makes no specific reference to Sea Malta. It states that entities with a strategic value for the country should not be privatised.
According to Mangion, if privatisation fails and government follows through on its promise to liquidate Sea Malta, a future MLP government will be committed to “create a new national sea line to secure the strategic links with the continent assuring regular and guaranteed sea transport for our vital imports and exports.”
Austin Gatt has already stated that the government has a back up plan to guarantee these vital routes if the privatisation fails.