In a historic and unprecedented show of unity, all of Malta’s trade unions will team up this Friday to protest against government’s announced reform in utility tariffs.
Announcing the decision yesterday, the leaders of the General Workers’ Union and Union Haddiema Maghqudin flanked by other unionists heralded the news as “a historic moment” and “a milestone” in Maltese trade unionism that could pave the way for further cooperation.
Both union leaders said there were no preconditions in the talks between them to hold one demonstration, and the day was only moved to Friday as the UHM leader will be abroad on Thursday.
“You are living a historic moment in the trade union sector,” said GWU Secretary General Tony Zarb at a hastily called press conference held. at Osborne Hotel yesterday afternoon, at the end of the talks. “You can now understand why we are beaming with satisfaction. We hope our call will now be heeded. Hopefully this will also be a step forward for the future of a united trade union front.”
UHM Secretary General Gejtu Vella said the decision to unite should send a clear message of protest to government against the way it had abandoned social dialogue on water and electricity tariffs.
“Government has to realise that all unions on the MCESD are social partners as much as the government is,” Vella said. “The moment government thinks it is above them, that’s when it starts undermining constructive social dialogue. … Ours is a clear message to the government that it has no monopoly over the national interest. We also hold the national interest dearly, so our views have to be taken in all seriousness. We hope Friday’s demonstration will be enough for government to realise this.”
Vella, who had earlier last week described protesting in the streets as “a last resort” said his union’s decision to take to the streets came after it had “exhausted all avenues”.
“We’ve used all means at our disposal,” Vella said. “So now we are resorting to the streets.”
William Portelli, who heads the Confederation of Malta Trade Unions as well as the bank employees’ union, said no union could back out of such a historic event.
“We couldn’t but support such a demonstration of unity,” he said, also expressing his hopes for a long-lasting united front. “If there’s one thing that is good out of this episode (water and electricity tariff increase), it is precisely our unity today. We are hereby showing that we can sit around a table and discuss the issues that unite us, without any preconditions except that we are colleagues.”
The Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses and the Malta Union of Teachers, which were both going to participate in the GWU demonstration Thursday, also announced they will be joining the Friday protest.
“We will be participating even more willingly now that we can see the formation of this trade union movement,” said Kevin Bonello of MUT, echoing past calls by MUT president John Bencini on all unions to form a Trade Union Council.
Meanwhile Alternattiva Demokratika congratulated the union leaders for agreeing to protest together.
“This is indeed a historical moment and all workers, entrepreneurs and self employed will benefit from this great sign of maturity on the part of the trade unions,” said AD Chairman Arnold Cassola.
“AD has always appealed for unity amongst the social partners on the tariffs issues and we are enthralled to see all working in unison. The social partners are ready to lead and, as already stated on our part, we are ready to follow”, he said.
The demonstration will be held in Valletta on Friday 14 at 5.30pm.