MaltaToday | 13 August 2008

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NEWS | Wednesday, 13 August 2008

GWU to hold meeting on shipyards today

The General Workers Union will hold a meeting today evening in Paola for shipyards workers in protest at the government’s privatisation process of the shipyards.
GWU secretary-general Tony Zarb said there were still matters that were unclear in the call for expressions of interest in the Malta Shipyards, published on Monday by the government.
Zarb pointed out that it did not appear that it was being made mandatory that maritime related operations continue at the shipyards.
Zarb also said that it was against industrial law not to oblige the worker to take on the existing workforce.
The union has in the past warned shipyards workers from taking up government’s early retirement schemes, before knowing who the buyer of the shipyards will be.
The document published by government on Monday tells prospective buyers it is downsizing the shipyards, after it first downsized the workforce in 2003.
Tony Zarb warned the government should not expect the help of the union throughout the privatisation process unless it comes to an understanding over the best deal for workers.
Former Drydocks council chairman Sammy Meilaq said the government could not be trusted, after it won an election by 1,500 votes “fraudulently”. “If the Maltese were more alert, they would seek this government’s removal,” Meilaq said.
He said the government could not be trusted after first telling workers there were no plans for downsizing. “Now the government does not want to guarantee our jobs. Gonzi is telling us that as long as he is comfortable in Castille, he doesn’t care about your salary,” he told workers.
In a reaction, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech condemned the GWU for creating obstacles to the privatisation process while claiming it is in agreement with privatisation in principle.
Fenech said the national protest to be held today was with the clear intention of disrupting the delicate process of privatisation.
The minister said government was once again declaring that the shipyards will be privatised towards economic activities connected with the repair of ships, superyachts and yachts, and other related maritime activities.
“If one reads the expression for interest document in its entirety, it is clear that government is not interested in selling the shipyards for any other reason. This was stated repeatedly, even in Parliament, and it is one of the points the government and the GWU are in agreement upon,” Fenech said.
The minister also precised that the new buying company or companies would take in all the remaining workers at the shipyards after the voluntary and early retirement schemes, as per the European Commission’s directive on transfer of business.
Fenech said there were two phases in the choice of a new operator, which are that of the expression of interest, and the formal offer that will lead to a shortlist of interested buyers.
“It would be a mistake for the government to issue a call for expression of interest and oblige a prospective buyer to take all of the shipyards workers so early in the process. We don’t know yet how many workers will take up the retirement schemes, until these close on 31 October,” Fenech said.
The minister added that the government does not want to condition any future buyers with the sheer number of workers at the shipyards. “The technical advice given to the government was to allow prospective buyers to state the number of workers they would require, the skills they needed, as well as the opportunities that would be made available for training.”
Fenech said government had no intention of carrying an unsustainable privatisation of the shipyards: “With a large number of workers, we run the risk that no company will be interested in acquiring the shipyards. This would lead to the failure of the shipyards, with workers losing out on the retirement schemes or jobs offered by prospective buyers. The future of this enterprise depends on the sucess of the early retirement schemes.”
Fenech said that any action of intimidation or violence would tarnish the image of the shipyards and its workers and have a negative impact on potential buyers. “While accepting the right to the freedom of expression of workers, the government appeals to the workers to appreciate the consquences their actions might have. Nobody buys an enterprise that is troubled – as happened in the case of Sea Malta.”

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