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News • September 05 2004

Foreign workers employed at Drydocks as grizzly bear turns to teddy bear

Kurt Sansone

The Drydocks was a hot bed for Labour militants, who were also bequeathed the title “aristocracy of the worker” by a former Prime Minister. But what until a few years ago was a place that bubbled with political enthusiasm that sometimes bordered on the violent, is today a place dominated by low morale.
Lack of substantial ship repair contracts is only accentuating the lack of enthusiasm among a beleaguered work force. This year ship cleaners have spent more work hours cleaning the docks and surrounding areas rather than doing productive time on board ships, MaltaToday was told by demoralised employees.
The two ships currently in dock for minor repair works are set to leave in the coming days and there is little hope on the horizon. “We might have a contract on a tourist ship of some sorts in the near future but there is no steady flow of work,” a veteran worker said. “To make matters worse, the drastically reduced work force cannot cope if more than two ships are in dock for repair with the consequence that the Drydocks ends up contracting skilled workers from Eastern European countries,” a shipyard employee said.
Only recently a number of ‘blasters’ from Eastern Europe were brought over to work alongside their Maltese counterparts.
In full knowledge that they are the population’s favourite punching bag because of the amount of money government pumped into the failing industry over the years and which debt ran into hundreds of millions, Drydocks workers feel they are swimming against the current all on their own.
Today, they are caught between two stools; too many ships in port could spell trouble because there aren’t enough people to cope with the volume of work that would be generated, while no ships at all means more reliance on government funds.
The general feeling among employees who spoke to this newspaper is that the Drydocks will eventually die a natural death. While that may seem to be a victory for tax-paying citizens who rightly could never stomach the idea of government pumping unlimited funds in an enterprise often mired in political controversy, it will mean the loss of livelihood for many a family in the Cottonera area.
Drydocks workers have over the years bred a sense of camaraderie unparalleled in other work places and for most of them the docks represent their lives. One employee winced at the idea floated by the Prime Minister recently that the prospects for Drydocks workers might just be looking good if everybody pulls the same rope. “We cannot see where his optimism is coming from,” the worker said. The Prime Minister’s optimism is not shared down at the docks and what was once a grizzly bear has been re-modelled into a teddy bear that is gradually moving towards extinction.






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