Utility tariffs: Ray of light for low-income families
As hopes of re-negotiating the controversial commercial energy tariffs revision seem to peter out, representatives of the 18 trade unions protesting last Friday against the utility tariff hike, yesterday presented Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi with nine alternative proposals on a prospective review of household tariffs.
Should government give in to their demands, pressure on consumers could ease up this Christmas, thus presenting a ray of light to the retail sector.
All unions reported varying degrees of satisfaction at the meeting’s outcome.
“Optimistic? Yes I suppose I am, after today’s meeting,” Malta Union of Teachers director John Bencini said. “Last time they slammed the door shut, now they left it slightly ajar...”
However, no representative was willing to go into any detail on the nine proposals; but union insiders who spoke informally with sister paper MaltaToday hinted as to the general thrust.
“We agree with the overall principle of eco-reduction,” one official said. “We understand that government would move to discourage excessive waste. However, where we disagree is on the implementation: the fact that the changes were ushered all at once. It is too hard an impact to withstand.”
What the unions are therefore proposing is an overall reduction in the new tariffs, which, while still remaining higher than before, would be more palatable to the low-income brackets.
“If government studies our proposals in depth, it will realise that they still achieve the desired objective without proving to be too much of a burden on families.”
No date has been set for a second meeting, and according to Bencini, this is as it should be. “The Prime Minister will now be consulting with his own experts,” he said. “After all, you can’t take decisions like that on a whim around the discussion table...”
Meanwhile, GWU secretary-general Tony Zarb, who was the first to speak after the meeting, gave a terse overview of the meeting and its outcome.
“We have presented government with our common proposals, which had been agreed to beforehand by all participating unions,” he told the assembly of journalists on the palace steps.
But asked to expand on the unions’ common proposals, Zarb would only say that they had been calculated to reduce the burden on low-income Maltese families, and were based on the concept of social justice.
“We are now waiting for the government to come back to us with its own workings (of these proposals)”, Zarb added.
Confederation of Malta Trade Unions secretary-general William Portelli argued that even a slight revision of the current metre charge and 1,500 units per person limit would make a significant difference to the impact of electricity bills on households.
Portelli admitted that the one issue in which the unions met with no success at all was that of the retroactive utility bills, which will still be backdated to 1 October.
“Yes, we did discuss the issue, but the government is sticking to its guns on this one,” he said.
On his part, Union Haddiema Maqghudin secretary-general Gejtu Vella stressed that the meeting mainly on the residential, not commercial, dimension to the new tariff regime.