Shipyards lose Lm1 million contract

By Natalino Fenech, The Sunday Times of Malta, 4 January 2004

Malta Shipyards Ltd has started the year on a bad note, having lost a contract worth over Lm1 million.

An unofficial stoppage by workers in the first week of December led to a floating production storage and offloading vessel (FPSO), which was expected to dock for major works, to turn back.

The docks at the ‘yard are currently empty and the only work in sight is a ship expected to call for minor emergency works later this week.

Malta Shipyards had won the FPSO contract amid fierce competition from other yards and the vessel was expected to spend at least five weeks in the dock, undergoing major works.

But when the ship owners learnt that the chief executive Peter Moore was attacked and manhandled at the ‘yard, they decided to take the ship to another ‘yard where such trouble “was unheard of”, sources said.

The vessel was extracting oil off Tunisia. The company owning the ship is state-owned but even diplomatic efforts to convince them to dock the ship in Malta failed, as the company did not want to risk having the ship caught up here.

The contract would have been the biggest after that of the USS La Salle.

The incidents had repercussions in General Workers' Union circles and the section secretary Alfred Cassar was forced to resign.

The union's office at the drydocks has been locked up since December 5, when Mr Moore was attacked.

“It is ironic that the closure of the office was one of the issues at the negotiating table and the union managed to keep the office at the ‘yard but it has been kept closed because of the workers' actions,” sources said.

Abuse and insults were also hurled at the GWU's deputy general secretary Manwel Micallef and Mr Cassar, who had tried to calm workers down.

’Yard workers stopped working twice without any union directive in December and, although the collective agreement states that such actions could lead to dismissal, no action is known to have been taken.

The union is set to elect a new executive committee for the metal and construction workers' section later this month.

Nominations for all posts have been cast. Most of those who resigned recently from the executive committee, arguing people did not want them, have nonetheless cast their nomination.

Marco Zammit, Mr Cassar and Victor Camilleri, the former president, section secretary and assistant secretary, respectively, did not cast their nomination.

Two people cast their nomination for the post of president, Pawlu Attard, a former worker director and Joe Demicoli, who is now with Industrial Projects and Services Ltd; while Charles Agius (known as il-panca), who had contested against Mr Cassar last May and lost), and former worker director at the Malta Shipbuilding Jesmond Tanti are contesting the post of section secretary.

One of the proposers for Charles Agius is former ‘yard chairman Sammy Meilaq.

’Yard sources said Mr Cassar will now be employed by the union. He is expected to start assisting hospitality section secretary Joe Grima, who is expected to retire later this year.

Sources said several union officials are very preoccupied with the new metal workers' section executive committee, fearing they will try to dictate the union’ s policies.

The government is also preoccupied that there could be trouble with the union's new committee.