Competitiveness Minister Censu Galea yesterday said he had just received the newly set-up Malta Dockers’ Union’s position on port reforms since it split from the General Workers’ Union, signalling a new step in the protracted negotiations that risk delaying the reform timeframes set by the government.
Acknowledging the fact that some three months of negotiations had been lost since the GWU’s internal strife with its section secretaries, the minister yesterday said he was adamant to conclude the port negotiations by December, when he expected the new reduced charges to be in effect.
“I admit that we’ve lost three months because of the developments at the union, and the greatest set of discussions have to be held with port workers, foremen and tally clerks,” Galea said.
“In the last months, the representatives of workers have shifted to a new union, and I’ve always insisted we have to hold discussions with the recognised representatives. Today I’ve received their position on the discussions, which I don’t believe is very different from the previous position although I will not prejudice discussions at this stage.”
The minister said he was adamant on sticking to his own timeframes. “I’m still bound to make the changes happen by the end of the year,” the minister said. “The fact that three months have passed won’t mean that we’ll need another three months.”
Asked about port charges which businesses insist are still extremely high despite the launched initial reforms in cargo handling, the minister admitted that there was only around a 5 per cent reduction in charges so far, which was also being contested by users of port services. The original percentage of reduced fees mentioned by the minister prior to the launch of the reforms was 25 per cent.
“The ports reform was not only linked to a change in contractor,” he said yesterday. “So far there have been some reductions but by the end of the year there should be a substantial reduction in fees. If it is not 25 per cent, it should be somewhere there.”
Yesterday the minister also presented the first annual progress report for the national reform programme that was submitted earlier to the European Commission.
The report highlights the targets set, kept or missed in line with the Lisbon Strategy. The Commission will be reviewing the report and also making its own inquiries with social partners on the ground to ensure that the government is keeping with its set targets. The report will also be tabled in Parliament and discussed on the Parliamentary Committee for European and Foreign Affairs.
“Overall I’m satisfied that we’ve made some significant steps, but there remains more to be done,” the minister said, saying he was particularly keen on seeing more women working and on further investment in research and innovation. “Implementation is progressing as planned and I feel encouraged with the results we’ve achieved so far.”
Malta’s major benchmarks set in the document have to do with the sustainability of public finances, competitiveness, employment, education and training, and the environment.
The target of keeping the public deficit below 3 per cent of the GDP has already been met, while economic growth registered in the first two quarters of this year has been “encouraging”, Galea said.
Under the competitiveness targets, the government is aiming at improving enterprise and industry, tourism and the country’s infrastructure, especially ports.
Malta’s competitiveness standing on the World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index 2006-2007 has advanced by five places in the list of most competitive economies in the world, ranking 39. Malta is also ranking 21 in the world as the most technologically-ready countries, up from 30 last year.
The National Reform Programme is one of government’s key strategic documents through which the country’s socio-economic development challenges will be addressed. It is primarily intended to address Malta’s national competitiveness in terms of the relaunched Lisbon Strategy.
The Lisbon Strategy was relaunched last year with the aim for Europe to become, by 2010: “the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world capable of sustainable economic growth with more and better jobs and greater social cohesion, and respect for the environment”. The strategy focuses on two main priorities – economic growth and jobs. The EU is pursuing a Community Lisbon Action Programme whilst all Member States have been asked to prepare National Reform Programmes based on a set of guidelines.
The National Reform Programme (NRP) with a governance structure based on a three-year cycle, commenced in 2005, and aims to set out a comprehensive strategy to deliver growth and jobs in line with the refocus of the Lisbon Agenda agreed to in the Spring European Council. Several political, economic, social, technological and environmental factors affect Malta’s economic growth and international competitiveness and hence, the island’s employment growth potential.