The Malta Independent 29 June 2022, Wednesday

Government needs to lead by example in fight against precarious work - UHM

Shona Berger Friday, 29 April 2022, 14:54 Last update: about 3 months ago

UHM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella on FRiday called on the government to lead by example in the fight against precarious work by ensuring that employees of contractors engaged in public entities, benefit from the protection offered by trade union membership.

On the occasion of Workers’ Day on 1 May, the UHM - Voice of the Workers held its annual conference at the Catholic Institute on Friday.

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A debate on trade union membership was held with the participation of UHM CEO Josef Vella, Labour Deputy Leader for Party Affairs Daniel Micallef and Opposition Spokesman for Employment Ivan Castillo. The discussion was moderated by Prof. Andrew Azzopardi.                                   

In his closing speech, Vella said that the government should stop outsourcing its core operations “as this is leading to discrimination, whereby the contractor’s workers are being paid less than their government colleagues despite doing the same job at the same workplace.”

One of the solutions could be to do a greater effort for the setting up of social cooperatives in sectors like cleaning, security work and care workers, Vella said.

Vella referred to the controversy stoked during the election campaign over the proposal of mandatory trade union membership.

“While the Labour Party made this pledge several times in various manifestos, little effort was made to implement it. On the other hand, a few days before the election, the Nationalist Party announced it was against this proposal,” Vella said.

He noted that UHM had made it clear that this should only apply to low-income workers as they are more prone to exploitation. 

“Under this proposal, workers would have the right to join the union of their choice,” Vella said.

Meanwhile, he highlighted that this had nothing to do with the constitutional case which had been filed by dockyard workers who had been denied overtime as they were not members of the General Workers’ Union.

“In this case, no one is being threatened with overtime or being forced to join a particular union. Those benefitting from better conditions, thanks to the collective agreement negotiated by a union, must pay the equivalent of the fee into a workers’ development fund,” Vella said.

This is in accordance with the principle that free riders (the term used for those who benefit from union services without paying the fee) should not be tolerated.

“To date, I am yet to meet an employee who declines the benefits of a collective agreement because they are not a union member,” Vella said.

As a result, he said that it is important to put the concept of protective membership into practice.

“As the largest employer, the government must be the one to take the initiative and start implementing this concept if it really believes that it wants to fight against abuse,” Vella said.

‘COLA should not be part of the collective agreement increase’

Vella spoke about the Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA), saying that the wage increase should not include the rise given for the cost of living, as otherwise the latter would fail to have the desired effect.

Speaking about workers injured on duty, Vella insisted that workers should not suffer a drop in their take-home pay, saying “it’s unfair that in such a situation, injured employees are ending up with their basic wage only.”

He noted that “workers must do their part and show solidarity with their peers rather than hide behind union officials. In this day and age, there are new opportunities brought about by digital social media platforms.”

“Unions could be much more effective on crucial issues such as the rise in the cost of living if they were on a united front,” Vella said.                                            

In two separate recorded videos presented during the event, Prime Minister Robert Abela and Opposition Leader Bernard Grech both shared their message on the occasion of Workers’ Day on 1 May.

Prime Minister Robert Abela said that “besides the celebration of workers who contribute to this society and to this country, Workers’ Day is an occasion where we reflect on the achievements we would like to achieve, the challenges that surround us, and how these can be changed into opportunities.”

Abela mentioned a number of ways the government intervened to protect the work of all workers in this country, including the implementation of schemes as well as the investment of around €1.5 billion, especially during the pandemic months.

“Whilst others focused on the country’s deficit, the government focused on having the lowest rate of unemployment and inflation, whilst ensuring that financial sustainability is withheld.

Malta has the highest employment rate than ever before. As a result, we can be proud that with the decisions taken, we are approaching 1 May, with the peace of mind that work has been protected,” Abela said.

In the future, Abela noted that the government will invest in different sectors, saying that investment today is 10% greater than how it was in 2019 - before the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We will also make sure that new job opportunities will be created, including in sectors with a higher and better wage,” Abela said. 

He added that “we also need to make sure that the employee feels he is working to live and not live to work.”

In addition, Abela said that the Labour Party in government has always adopted a progressive approach.

“The government will not shy away from facing the existing realities and challenges that exist in this country, such as the cost of living,” Abela said.

Abela also mentioned that unlike other countries, Malta is prepared to deal with challenges that are brought about by international issues, such as the rise in cost of electricity and fuel.

“We need to make sure that the economic wheel continues to turn. We are optimistic for the future of this country. We need to create a better balance between work and life because this is how we guarantee better social mobility,” Abela said.

Opposition Leader Bernard Grech highlighted that although employment is important, one should not live to work only.

“Work is neccessary and it gives us a sense of satisfaction. It also gives us the possibility to purchase the things we need and maintain a roof over our heads for our families,” Grech said.

He added that “it is important that the economy in Malta transforms itself into a more innovative economy so that more quality jobs are created. It is also required to create new economic sectors to continue attracting more quality work, but also to move Malta forward.”

“Further investment is also required in a number of sectors,” Grech said.

He also noted that although work gives dignity to a human being, one must ensure that the work being done is honourable and worthy.

In addition, “no employee should be abused in anyway, and everyone has a right to good working conditions where he/she is given the opportunity. Consequently, the fight of all politicians against precarious work, not only with worlds but also with actions, continues.

“This should be done by moving forward, implementing enforcement when necessary as well as and improve Malta’s laws. We should also ensure that no employer should abuse from its employees, regardless of whether the employee is Maltese or a foreigner,” Grech said.

 

 

 

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