Government using tribunals to halt industrial action

By Matthew Xuereb, Independent, 17 May 2004

Negotiations on 13 collective agreements at a standstill

The government's attitude to the way it treats industrial relations is unacceptable and does not bode well for the establishment of a social pact, Union Haddiema Maghqudin secretary-general Gejtu Vella said yesterday.

In a strongly-worded press conference yesterday afternoon, Mr Vella complained that the government was using the Industrial Tribunal as a method of stopping trade unions from taking industrial action. This, he said, was holding back the union from its right to negotiate a collective agreement for its members working in different institutions.

“If this is the case, we will immediately inform the International Labour Organisation on the situation of industrial relations in Malta and how the government is treating the unions,” he said.

Mr Vella said it was unacceptable that government approached the negotiation table with a “pre-packed package”, adding that all the union wanted was what it felt the workers deserved. Asked by The Malta Independent whether the union was taking into consideration the country's problematic situations, Mr Vella replied in the affirmative.

“I can assure everyone that we are not requesting anything astronomical. We want what we feel the workers deserve,” he said.

Replying to another question by The Malta Independent, Mr Vella said that even though there is a stipulated timeframe by when the Industrial Tribunal should hand down a decision which is referred there, this is never met.

“We are faced with the situation that a collective agreement which expired a year ago is referred to the Industrial Tribunals and this takes another year to hand down a decision. This is unacceptable,” he said.

Asked what the union was negotiating at the moment, Mr Vella said the union had 13 collective agreements, negotiations on which were at a standstill. Three of these — Maltapost, the Malta Tourism Authority and the Broadcasting Authority — were referred to the Industrial Tribunal.

Mr Vella also spoke about what he described as, “an inconsistency” whereby the government was referring industrial disputes to the industrial tribunal. At the same time, workers are not allowed, by law, to refer problems they may have at work to the industrial tribunal.

He said another problem the union was facing was that within the many government entities, there was no decision-maker at the negotiation table. This was making it increasingly impossible for the union to close a discussion on a collective agreement because no final decision is taken.