04 October 2006

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Business Today

Industry still disappointed as port reform resumes

James Debono

Talks with port workers on port reforms will continue on Friday amid great disappointment over the pace of reform from industry players, who have asked for a meeting with the Prime Minister.
Discussions with the port workers are set to recommence following a lull after the en masse resignation of port workers from the General Workers Union and the formation of the new union.
The Federation of Industry is saying costs at ports today are a far cry from the 25% reduction promised by Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea in an interview with MaltaToday last year.
But the newly-formed Malta Dockers Union, which from Friday onwards will take the place of the General Workers Union in the talks, are claiming a 25% reduction in total costs cannot be expected from a reform of the port workers scheme.
The government is still aiming at a significant reduction in port costs but seems to have given up on the original 25% reduction promise.
A spokesperson for Censu Galea simply said it was “still intended that significant reductions do occur”.
But so far industry has seen no reductions from the labyrinthine cost structure at the ports. “As regards the costs paid by industry, nothing has happened so far. We are not satisfied with what has happened in the past months,” FOI president Adrian Bajada told Business Today.

The Federation of Industry have asked to meet Lawrence Gonzi to discuss the situation at the ports following a disappointing outcome on costs at the ports.
The most significant reform so far has been the entry of Valletta Gateway Terminals – a Singaporean-Maltese consortium which has taken over from the GWU-owned cargo handling company at the Grand Harbour.
Port reform talks have so far been limited to the tariffs charged by the Malta Freeport and the Grand Harbour, and shipping agents.
But Adrian Bajada says the 5% reduction in costs promised by Valletta Gateway Terminals has not materialised. “While some FOI members have reported a very marginal reduction in costs, some have even reported a slight increase in costs.”
Hopes of a significant decrease in port costs now hinge on an overhaul of the port workers scheme.
But it would be impossible to arrive at a 25% reduction by simply reforming the port workers scheme, argues Joe Saliba, president of the dockers’ union. “A 25 per cent reduction can only be through a global reform affecting all stakeholders. Our earnings do not even amount to 25% of global costs.”
In fact according to a study conducted by the Malta Development Corporation in 2001, charges related to the port workers scheme amount to only 15 per cent of the total costs on each 20-foot container.
Saliba insists the new union is ready to negotiate a decrease in port charges as long as this does not lead to a reduction in workers’ living standards.
Last week, the director of labour informed the Malta Maritime Authority that the MDU has more than 50 per cent of port workers and tally clerks. The Union Haddiema Maqghudin will represent shore foremen.


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