NEWS | Sunday, 21 September 2008

Shipyard re-engages early retirement workers in Fairmount debacle

Malta Shipyard workers who have just been given early retirement are being contracted to resume works by the same employer on the Fairmount Marine project, as the company’s skilled labour force is diminishing and prospects of completing the works get dimmer.
The ongoing ship-conversion works on the two semi-submersible barges are in fact draining further the ailing Maltese company, currently on the brink of liquidation.
Skilled labourers who have just been given their early retirement packages as part of the government’s drive to cut down jobs before privatising the shipyards are being re-engaged as works on the Fairmount contract are still ongoing.
Sources point out at a clause in the contract – kept under wraps by the government citing commercial confidentiality – that would give Fairmount the right to take over the management “in case of abandonment of contract”.
A spokesman for the Ministry for Infrastructure, Transport and Communications did not deny the existence of the clause but said the government would not make the contract public because of confidentiality clauses.
He said: “The company is taking appropriate measures to ensure that the project is delivered.”
He added that the practice of contracting out works to individuals was already existed to an extent before the early retirement schemes were launched.
“Management was utilising a mix of permanent Malta Shipyards employees, temporary employees as well as subcontractors on this project,” he said.
Sources pointed out that what is happening is similar to what happened at Public Broadcasting Services immediately after its workforce was cut down to one-third in the restructuring process launched by the same minister, Austin Gatt. PBS had ended up contracting out services at costlier rates to the same people it had just given early retirement.
Meanwhile the PricewaterhouseCoopers investigation into the contract is still ongoing as the shipyards management stands accused of glaring mismanagement and gross miscalculation of costs.
The General Workers’ Union claimed earlier this year that the company could lose up to €40 million because of the management’s costings of the work that was originally acclaimed as a major step at making the shipyards viable by the end of this year, when government subsidies will have to stop.
Minister Gatt has already admitted that the shipyards were landed in a disadvantageous position because of the contract but dismissed the €40 million figure as an exaggeration, blaming also low productivity as part of the problem.
Yet shipyard sources insist that the costings as included in the contract were far off the mark after senior management shot down most of the costs originally drawn up in the assessment of the works.

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