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We Asked One Of Malta’s Biggest Trade Unions Why Everyone Seems To Be On Strike Lately

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Over the last few months, Malta has experienced industrial actions in a lot of different sectors.

From doctors to teachers to pilots to social workers, different parts of Maltese society have felt the need to resort to strikes and other means to demand better conditions and better pay in their fields.

With Malta’s economy doing better than ever, discussions over salaries and workers conditions seem to have escalated, and may 

The General Worker’s Union, as one of Malta’s biggest unions, plays a key role in industrial actions in Malta. Lovin Malta spoke to GWU Secretary General Josef Bugeja to figure out where the GWU go from here.

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LM: Why are so many different sectors resorting to industrial actions?

GWU: Since Malta is experiencing an unprecedented economic boom, employees’ expectations are high and rightfully so they expect to share in this success. Let us not forget that during the financial crisis, it was employees that had to carry the brunt through a decrease in their working conditions and benefits. 

During the same period a number of other austerity measures were introduced in every workplace, and also on a national level like for example, public holidays falling on a weekend. Now that the we are experiencing an economic growth of around 6%, the GWU believes that it is our duty towards our members to work hard to improve their quality of life.  

We strongly believe in the right of industrial action and the right to strike as prescribed by law.

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LM: Is there a reason they all occurred around the same time?

GWU: We don’t believe that there is any difference between now and any other period. 

Normally collective agreements are negotiated for a period of between three and four years. Near the completion of negotiations, and when there is a deadlock, trade unions use their legal rights to persuade management that their claims can be met. 

Furthermore, since Malta is experiencing an unprecedented economic growth, trade unions’ members expect that we put forward claims to improve their working conditions and expect that their work is valued more and that they share in this success. The latest statistics show that while the average wage increased by 7%, profits increased by 10%.   

LM: Are all trade disputes equal?

GWU: All trade disputes have their particular circumstances and each trade union is aware of what are the possibilities to attain their claims. Trade unions are fully aware of their responsibilities towards their members and towards the work place.

As a GWU we pride ourselves of our role as partners in every enterprise, being private or public sector, and the relationship we built not just to increase salaries and improve working conditions but also efficiencies. Every group of employees has different needs and claims and it is our duty to strike a balance between our members expectations and companies’ needs.

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LM: Are you focused on one specific sector right now?

GWU: As a general union we represent all sectors of the economy from maritime to manufacturing, from construction to professional financial services, public officers to government entities and most recently disciplinary forces. In total the GWU encompass eight dections, two associations and various affiliations. Each section’s secretary focuses on improving the working conditions, increasing family measures and tackling individual issues and claims in each sector. 

We are focusing on the issue of equal pay for job of equal value. The world of work is changing fast and in every workplace we find various employees doing the same job but paid differently because they are employed by different employers. The current labour legislation states that the principal of equal pay for job of equal value is with the same employer. We cannot accept a situation that two carers caring for a patient at the same place of work are paid differently solely because one is employed directly by the workplace while the other is employed through a sub-contractor. We are lobbying with authorities to rectify the law to reflect todays’ working environment. What we are proposing is that employees directly employed (with a particular employer) and sub-contractors employees within the same organisation receive the same remuneration and benefits.

LM: How does the GWU feel that the government is handling these demands from unions?

GWU: We are not privy to the details of the negotiations so we cannot comment on specific disputes/actions but from our part, we are putting forward various proposals which were adopted and implemented by the government. We also concluded various collective agreements with the government. 

Negotiations are always tough but both sides tried to seek solutions rather than confrontation. When we put forward our proposals for negotiations, beforehand we evaluate them, we cost them, analyse them, and discuss them with our members. During the negotiations process we base our arguments on facts and we are finding a government that listens to us and is open to negotiations.  

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LM: What others sectors need improvement?

GWU: Public transport is one sector that needs improvement. A normal working week for a bus driver is 48 hours. Drivers try to adhere to their schedule but sometimes they are penalised if they exceed the speed limit and if they adhere to the speed limit and arrive late at the depot they are disciplined. 

Sometimes during a 12-hour shift, they could not take a break which is also illegal. 

Another sector that needs improvement in terms of working conditions is the hospitality sector. Employees in the hospitality sector are not paid double the time to work on Sundays as this is considered a normal day of work and on public holidays and national holidays they are still paid the normal basic rate and an additional day of leave is added. 

Precarious employment is still an issue across the whole economy. While various initiatives targeting precarious employment in the public service, the same cannot be said on the private sector. That is why the GWU will continue to fight the issue of equal pay for job of equal value until we achieve our goal.”

LM: What are your hopes for the future?

GWU: Currently we are celebrating the 75th anniversary of the GWU and we will be celebrating this success. The congress will be held on the 5th of October, and the theme will be ‘The Future Is Now’. 

We already launched the whole programme for this year and activities will be spread all year round. The programme of activities will focus on four themes; industrial relations, social activities, training and coaching and the re-structuring of our internal set-up to continue to offer an excellent service.    

Do you agree with using industrial action to achieve better standards for workers?

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