The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

Foreign workers are not the threat to the economy; treatment of foreign workers is – UHM CEO

Albert Galea Monday, 14 October 2019, 09:39 Last update: about 1 month ago

It is not the presence of foreign workers which is the threat to the Maltese economy, but it is the treatment of these foreign workers which is the threat, UHM CEO Josef Vella told The Malta Independent in an interview.

“One of our worries when it comes to foreign workers is not because of where they are coming or anything like that – it is the abuse on these foreign workers, in the sense that because €3 an hour to them is more than enough, in truth it is giving employers the opportunity to practice underpayment, which then has a direct effect on Maltese workers who end up either not doing that type of work until they find  an alternative, but then have to do it anyway because they find nothing else at that pay”, Vella explained.

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He cited a recently published Eurofound report which noted that while the EU-average hourly rate of payment is almost €30, that rate stands at €9.32 in Malta.  That is 31% of the EU average, compared to 44% of the EU average in 2012.  He said that while wages in the EU had increased by 55% since 2012, the hourly rate in Malta had only increased by 25%.

He said that this is the fear of the impact that the treatment of foreign workers is having, in that it is keeping the wages down.

“We need to realise that as our economy grows, we need to grow with it. Charity starts at home, and first and foremost our politics and economy should serve the citizens of our country”, he said.

“Obviously work needs to go on and if I get a foreigner and offer him the same rate as I would offer to a Maltese – keeping in mind that the law speaks of equal pay for job of equal value and makes no distinction between anyone – then there we have no problem”, he noted.

The threat to the economy comes, he said, when there isn’t a level playing field; “it is not the foreign workers who are a threat, it is the treatment of these foreign workers which is a threat.

‘Will every collective agreement now end in fragmented agreements?’, Vella questions as Allied Health Professionals dispute drags on

As a dispute over the recognition of the Allied Health Professionals group drags on, Vella questioned whether this case will set a precedent for collective agreements pertaining to groups of professionals will now start to be split up into many fragmented agreements.

The Allied Health Professionals are an umbrella group which encapsulates 10 professions under one collective agreement.  In 2016, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister gave recognition for physiotherapists, who fall under this group, to the MUMN.  Vella said that both the UHM and the GWU had objected to this and questioned why there is a splinter from this group of professionals, and asking whether this meant that the remaining groups will also be getting their own deals. 

Vella said that they had been assured in writing that this would not be the case, meaning that there will be one sectoral agreement for this umbrella group.  In any case, he said, the UHM objected to this as the way it was being done went against the principles of common practice, he said.

“So much was it not sole recognition, that the MUMN was on the table negotiating for an agreement along with the GWU – I understand sole recognition to be alone not with others.  This is something they admitted in court; that in itself is an admission that they did not get permission to negotiate a collective agreement for just physiotherapists”, he said.

He noted that the UHM could have been there with them but refused as it would have been contradictory for them to reject the MUMN’s recognition on the basis of poor practice but then negotiate, meaning that they continued to negotiate along.

“The situation became untenable – the law states that after a year, a union can challenge the recognition of another; more than a year passed, and in July this year we made that challenge for the sole recognition whole Allied Health Professionals group”, Vella said.

He noted that the verification exercise begun, which in itself means that there was nothing wrong with the UHM’s request for sole recognition of the Allied Health Professionals, and it found that 58% of the group’s members are part of the UHM – which is enough for sole recognition.

However, he said, for some reason it was also noted that the MUMN have 60% of the physiotherapists as members of them. “Taking this into account doesn’t make sense; we need to speak about the overall not about a partial result.  The result leaves no doubt over the majority”, he said.

The verification report took longer than stipulated by law, Vella noted, but the sole recognition was still eventually granted by the government, which then resulted in the MUMN filing an injunction for the government not to negotiate with the UHM, the result of which is still to be announced.

“This can have a ripple effect – the injunction can turn in a case, and then do we leave the workers without a collective agreement until the case is decided?”, Vella lamented.

“We need to decide what the regulating point of the industry is going to be – will every collective agreement now end up in separate agreements?  Do we have the capacity for this? Do we need all this fragmentation?  If this is going to happen, the government does not have the capacity to deal with all these agreements”, he said.

 

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