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Malta Shipyards Privatisation: Government puts forward proposals for early retirement schemes

 - Tuesday, 29 July 2008, 00:00 , by Francesca Vella

Finance Minister Tonio Fenech said that the government had put forward proposals for early retirement schemes for shipyard workers in a meeting with General Workers Union (GWU) officials yesterday afternoon.

Addressing the media after a meeting with the GWU regarding the privatisation of Malta Shipyards, Mr Fenech said there were still points of divergence between the government and the union.

This was confirmed by GWU secretary general Tony Zarb, who said, when contacted by this newspaper, that the government’s proposal regarding the schemes was something completely new to them and they asked for some time to give their reaction to the schemes.

Mr Fenech said: “We have not come to a conclusion as yet, but the union should be giving us its counter-proposals regarding the technicalities of the early retirement schemes by Friday. I hope the process will not be drawn out unnecessarily. The government will be issuing an international call for expression of interest to privatise Malta Shipyards on 11 August.”

Mr Zarb said the union would “probably” give its reaction to the government’s proposals by Friday.

As for the international call for expression of interest to privatise Malta Shipyards, the GWU secretary general said they had not discussed this matter with Mr Fenech and stopped short of going into further detail regarding yesterday’s meeting.

The minister said that according to the experts’ analysis of Malta Shipyards’ situation, for it to be viable, the workforce would have to be reduced from 1,700 to between 450 and 700.

“We are looking at workers’ rights, particularly by taking into consideration the EU directive regarding transfer of business. The privatisation process could fail if the call for expression of interest is unsuccessful, or if we fail to reach an agreement regarding the number of workers applying for the early retirement schemes.”

Mr Fenech said that the schemes would be open to everyone and no limit whatsoever will be imposed.

Asked what happens if too many employees apply for the early retirement schemes, the minister said he did not want to speculate on this matter. However, he said that in such a situation, should the privatisation happen, the new company buying Malta Shipyards would then issue adverts to employ new people.

While he failed to give details of the schemes, particularly since the discussions with the union are ongoing, Mr Fenech said the privatisation would be similar to that of Malta Freeport.

In the case of the Freeport, the land was transferred by means of a 30- or 40-year emphyteusis, he said, adding that Malta Shipyards will be sold on condition it will be used for ship repair purposes only. As he has done previously in Parliament, Mr Fenech categorically denied the land could be used for real estate purposes.

Asked if he was confident that the sale of the Shipyards would be high enough to fund the early retirement schemes, Mr Fenech said it was too early to see into the details of the negotiation process and the government would be seeking the advice of international companies in this regard.

“The Shipyards are simply overmanned right now. While the government is not in a position to give guarantees regarding employment opportunities for workers that will have to leave, the early retirement schemes do not preclude anyone from re-entering the workforce. We want to help employees in this transition,” he said.

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