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NEWS | Sunday, 17 August 2008

Malta Shipyards saga drags on and on in privatisation war of words

The General Worker’s Union (GWU) yesterday said that if it is calling public meetings for Shipyard workers, it is because government is forcing it to do so. But according to Finance Minister Tonio Fenech, the GWU’s decision to take the issue to the streets, to use confrontation and threaten incitement will not help resolve the issue, should the process exceed the 31 December deadline.
“I am confident that we could work this through, although it does not mean that the process will necessarily be over by 31 December,” Fenech said. “If the European Commission sees us all pull the same rope it could be able to understand the circumstances. But so far all we have is confrontation from the union’s side. I don’t think this will help us in resolving the issue the way we’d like to.”
While both the GWU and the government are in agreement over the principle of privatising the Shipyards, the former keeps stamping its feet over lack of consultation, while the latter argues that if the Shipyards aren’t privatised it will be forced to declare the company bankrupt. The show of teeth from both sides is turning the prospect of reaching a mutual agreement by 31 December into a veritable saga.
“Government was always open for discussion but this does not mean that for the sake of consultation we should halt the privatisation process,” Fenech insisted.
“If we are to respect the deadline, we still need to carry on working on the privatisation process while being open to what the union has to say.”
Meanwhile, the GWU accuses the government of having approached it with a fait-accompli, without presenting anything concrete during discussions except for urging employees to take up the early retirement schemes as quickly as possible.
“The process has started and the schemes have been issued,” Fenech said. “We are ready to look into the fine details and amend accordingly after consulting the union, but we are not ready to retract the schemes. Discussion needs to take place within this context. So far, in the first week, almost a hundred employees have opted to accept the schemes.
“The union will not succeed in encouraging employees to opt out of the schemes so we are pressured to find another solution,” he added. “So far the only alternative proposal we have had from the union is to allow the formation of a co-operative among the employees, which would end up in us having to guarantee the jobs of those involved. But we are not going to guarantee any salaries as was done with the workers’ committee in the past, so I cannot see how this proposal can make any sense.”
Meanwhile, another statement issued yesterday by Azzjoni Nazzjonali (AN) said it also agreed with the principle of privatisation, although with strong reservations on the entire principle of the retirement schemes offer.


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