30 August 2006

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Business Today

Troubled GWU loses second section secretary after resignation

Port workers meeting in Qormi today with ex-secretary

Karl Schembri

The General Workers Union’s Secretary of the Maritime and Aviation Section, Emanuel Zammit, resigned together with his executive yesterday, three weeks since secretary Josephine Attard Sultana and President Francis Buttigieg were sacked from the public sector section.
Citing an “impossible environment imposed by the GWU leadership” as a reason for handing in his resignation letter just a day ahead of a port workers’ meeting to be held in Qormi, Zammit charged the union’s administration with attempting to undermine his integrity and his section’s autonomy.
His resignation leaves only one remaining section secretary in the GWU – Karmenu Vella – of the three singled out in an anonymous leaflet as forming part of “Emmanuel Micallef’s clique who do not belong to the union” in last October’s administrative elections.
Zammit stood for months in clear defiance towards the union’s administration in forging ahead with engaging the services of lawyer George Abela – who from GWU lawyer had been turned into the union’s enfant terrible – in port reforms and at Air Malta.
Today, Zammit will be leading a meeting for port workers in the presence of Abela at St Sebastian Hall in Hal Qormi, where he will be informing them of the latest developments. Sources say the workers will also have to decide their future representation in ports negotiations.
Zammit and his section’s executive members – four of whom were also GWU national council members – presented their resignation letters after an executive committee meeting held at union headquarters yesterday morning.
“Their attitude and manners made my life a misery,” Zammit said about the union’s administration in a press statement released after he handed his resignation. “They tried to undermine my integrity, my responsibility and my competence within the GWU’s general council as well as in my section, but thank God I always found the support from the executive, the delegates, the committees and the workers so that I could work for the good of all members,” he said in his press release. “But the events that happened lately left me breathless and pitted me in a crisis with myself. How can I ever accept that the section I lead loses its autonomy? I couldn’t keep working in these circumstances and under internal pressure from the administration to undermine this autonomy. I couldn’t keep waiting for the axe to chop off my head. I had to decide, against my wishes but with courage and determination.”
Another union member representing the GWU on the Air Malta Workers’ Council, Ray Arpa, also presented his resignation in solidarity with Zammit, stating in a press release that he did not want “to be an accomplice” in the “the very recent sad stories within the GWU”.
Lauding Zammit for his work, Arpa said: “He always did his best to protect the workers and their rights, notwithstanding the difficulties, without boasting about it.”
He also thanked lawyer George Abela “for his valuable assistance especially during the negotiations at Air Malta which were simultaneously coordinated with the three other unions to save the company and avoid massive forced redundancies”.
According to a GWU statement issued in the evening in which it denounced “all those from within and outside the union who are doing their best to hit out at the union”, Zammit resigned a day after he was asked by the administration about alleged “ongoing manoeuvrings especially among port workers”, to which he reportedly replied that he knew nothing about.
Secretary General Tony Zarb, who is abroad on holiday, could not be contacted yesterday but his deputy, Gejtu Mercieca, said: “We had heard that at tomorrow’s (today’s) meeting port workers are to be pressured to resign from the GWU, and we talked to him (Zammit) about it on Monday. He told us he knew nothing about it. Then all we know is that he called a meeting of the section’s executive today and we got his resignation letter afterwards.”
Mercieca said it was “business as usual” at the Workers’ Memorial Building yesterday. “Everyone is carrying on with his work and we are going to continue giving the service to our members and everyone,” he said, insisting that none of the resigning officials gave the reasons for quitting in their resignation letters.
“We never interfered in the section’s autonomy, and whenever we were asked for our help we gave it,” Mercieca said. “In fact in his letter of resignation Zammit asked us to indicate a person for the handing over and to receive his due payment. You don’t ask to give a handover if you have problems with the administration. Nobody in the administration ever exerted any pressure or interference on his section.”
The former GWU deputy secretary general, Emmanuel Micallef, said this latest episode confirmed that the union was deeply divided.
“I spoke already of a split after Josephine Attard Sultana was sacked, it’s clear now that the truth is coming out,” Micallef said. “There are very valid people whom the union is losing one after the other, and the consequences will not stop here.”
Meanwhile, Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea, who is leading port reforms, said he was waiting for the workers to declare who was representing them given yesterday’s development, but insisted he will not postpone the reforms.
“It might take a bit longer until things clear up but I have no intention to postpone port reforms,” Galea said.

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