Malta stands accused of labour abuses

ICFTU Online..., 017/000121/LD, 21 January 2000

Brussels, January 21, 2000 (ICFTU OnLine): A formal complaint has been lodged today with a United Nations labour body accusing Malta of ignoring international conventions on labour rights. The complaint which has been lodged with the UN's International Labour Organisation (ILO) by the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU) places Malta in the embarrassing company of countries like Colombia or Burma known for anti-union repression.

In a 7-page detailed submission, the ICFTU accuses Malta's present government of deliberate plans to undermine its affiliated organisation the General Workers' Union (GWU), using as a pretext a recognition dispute that opposed union leaders with the management of the Malta International Airport.

On December 6, 17 top officials of the GWU, including the union's general secretary Tony Zarb and its president James Pearsall were charged, amongst others, for allegedly having resisting police officials by violence, obstructing the police in their duties and threatening police officials.

The allegations are dismissed by the ICFTU has fabrications and a breach of ILO internationally-recognised standards on freedom of association to which Malta is a party.

They relate to a strike which took place on August 20 at Malta's international airport following a refusal by management to recognise the local GWU union despite the fact that it represents more than half of the 700 strong workforce.

“Fifteen minutes before the strike was due to end… it was broken by army personnel and the police”, says the ICFTU arguing that police “violently ejected strikers who were picketing peacefully”.

Commenting on the complaint, ICFTU General Secretary Bill Jordan said that “As a candidate to European membership, Malta would be expected to behave in line with its international obligations, ILO Conventions are not just pieces of writing that governments can dispose of at will, they are formal commitments”.

ICFTU legal advisers contend that Malta's attitude towards the MIA dispute, its repression of strikers and its attempts to undermine the GWU all constitute breach of ILO Convention 87 on Freedom of Association and Convention 98 on the right to collective bargaining. Both Conventions were ratified by Malta back in 1965.

The ICFTU complaint, to which the London-based International Transport Workers (ITF) associated itself, was filed with the ILO Director General Juan Somavia and is likely to be transmitted for examination by the ILO's Committee on Freedom of Association. The Maltese government will be invited to comment.

Although the ILO itself has no enforcement mechanism, reports by its monitoring bodies, such as the Committee of Freedom of Association, are key reference to other international institutions and act as a moral authority.

“It is all the more deplorable that a democratic country, places itself in such as situation as being shown in the bad company of repressive regimes” deplored Bill Jordan. Recent complaints by the ICFTU to the ILO have included China, Colombia, Burma, and Africa's only remaining one party country: Swaziland.