Less than three weeks before the Budget for 2010 is to be presented by Finance Minister Tonio Fenech, the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry (MCCEI) has walked out – at least metaphorically – from the pre-Budget discussions that the MCESD had been taking painstakingly for the past three months.
Addressing a press conference yesterday morning, MCCEI President Helga Ellul slammed the MCESD pre-budget document as “unsustainable” and “cannot be endorsed”.
In fact, the MCESD had produced a common Pre-Budget position to the Government following one-to-one meetings with the social partners by Gordon Cordina.
She also claimed that if the proposed €6.06 COLA increase went ahead as proposed in the 2010 Budget, “hundreds of jobs” would be lost.
“Malta has still not emerged from economic uncertainty and the safeguarding of jobs is the top-most priority for the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry,” Ellul insisted.
This entailed, she added, “the safeguarding of national competitiveness and the sustainability of locally-based business, both large and small”.
To this end, the MCCEI conducted “intensive negotiations” within MCESD.
However, the Chamber “made it very clear, right from the very early stages, that its agreement with the MCESD 2010 pre-Budget Discussion Paper was dependant on the acceptance by the social partners of a number of proposals made by the Chamber itself,” the MCCEI boss explained.
“We are concerned that things have taken this turn and that with a date for the Budget announced so close in November, there remains very little time to discuss and negotiate ourselves out of this situation,” Ellul insisted.
The Chamber said it was not against the award of COLA “to lower-paid workers to whom COLA is needed to safeguard basic living standards”.
“But we certainly believe that the economic circumstances are not opportune for an unprecedented COLA without mitigating its adverse effects with other compensating measures,” Ellul declared.
The MCCEI had “strongly insisted” that it was “unacceptable for the social partners to be pushed towards an unsustainable path in terms of competitiveness and employment and that some labour-flexibility measures needed to be included to offset the added costs to business,” the MCCEI President added.
The Chamber suggested that COLA is granted as an allowance rather than as part of the salary and that the COLA system would be reviewed a pre-specified date.
Moreover, the MCCEI proposed that the COLA element would be tax-neutral, the banking of hours would be introduced across the board, and the introduction of more productive hours at the place of work.
The Chamber also called for moratorium on all-government induced fees and tariffs; and for performance bonuses to become pensionable to allow better flexibility in the wage bargaining process.
The Council of the MCCEI “carefully considered” the MCESD document and the organisation’s position with respect to the various proposals it contained.
“It was decided that, unless some of the above counter-measures were accepted, the package of proposals put forward so far for the endorsement of the social partners is not sustainable for the country and the business community,” Ellul insisted.
The MCCEI said it had made “every possible effort” to unblock the situation with two rounds of emergency talks with MCESD chairman Sonny Portelli before this public pronouncement.
“Nevertheless, these efforts have, so far, proved unsuccessful and in the interest of safeguarding jobs, the Chamber has no option but to reject the package of measures for the forthcoming budget as currently proposed by MCESD,” Ellul declared to the journalists present for the press conference.
The MCCEI President explained that so far, the Chamber had conducted itself in the “most prudent manner” possible. “We have not expressed ourselves publicly until today and had no intention of doing so had matters not escalated so suddenly,” she insisted.