Some might think unions are an outdated concept. However, the way the year has unravelled under COVID-19 has shown that collective protection for workers has never been more crucial. But what do unions actually do? Why should you bother to sign up? Do they really bring about change?
Lovin Malta sat down with the Secretary-General of Malta’s largest workers’ union to ask all these questions.
On the first episode of Lovin Represents, we spoke to Josef Bugeja, head of the General Workers Union to pick his brain about what it’s like working to protect the rights of 51,000 workers in Malta.
Here are five things we learned.
1. COVID-19 has proven how useful unions are.
The GWU was created in a time of devastation and crisis to give a unified voice to the backbone of the country – its workers. Since its inception just after World War II, it’s been at the forefront of workers’ rights. Today, as we battle a different crisis, it’s once again lobbying to ensure that workers are given the protection they need.
“Our aim is to support members to reach their potential in a healthy environment,” Bugeja explained.
At the moment, the GWU is focused on two fronts: making sure every worker conforms to the guidelines laid out by the Superintendent of Public Health and pushing for better rights with social partners and the government.
“In a time where work is shaken by the pandemic we fought for things like the COVID-19 wage supplement,” he said.
2. Besides lobbying for better conditions in COVID-19, they’re pushing on other important issues.
The GWU also tables issues to ensure that its members are working in the best conditions possible.
“We also bring forward issues to the Malta Council for Social and Economic Development. We’re putting forward issues like the Green economy, platform-working, the right to disconnect, the gender pay gap and pay transparency,” Bugeja added.
More recently, it’s ensured that public holidays that fall on a Saturday and Sunday are listed as leave for workers in Malta.
3. Employees are protected from mistreatment when they’re part of the GWU.
The proof is in the pudding: according to Bugeja, workers protected by the union felt they were better shielded from mistreatment or the threat of redundancy in the face of the public health crisis.
“I’ve seen the way employers that we represent deal with staff compared to how they’re treated in other places where they’re not represented by us.”
“I wouldn’t tolerate employers making a profit at the expense of employees. We’re working to find every possible solution to avoid redundancy for everyone,” he said.
4. Strikes are a last resort.
A common stereotype of unions is that striking is the first tactic used to add pressure. This couldn’t be further from the truth.
“If you don’t reach an agreement, a conciliation meeting is called. If that doesn’t work, only then would you call a strike,” he said.
“The aim is always to find an amicable solution.”
5. Their vision is for everyone to join the GWU
As many historians believe, the General Workers Union’s strike in 1958 was fundamental to catalyse Malta’s journey to independence. If you believe in change, the GWU is a place to have your voice heard.
“My advice is for everyone to join the General Workers Union because there’s strength in collectivity.”
Tag someone who needs to watch this!