Some may think that unions are outdated, but the COVID-19 pandemic has shown us that protecting staff from exploitation and injustice is as important as ever. In Malta, one of the largest unions at the forefront of this fight is UĦM – Voice of Workers.
Lovin Malta sat down with Josef Vella, UĦM’s CEO to discuss why unions are as relevant as ever.
Here are five things we learnt.
1. There is strength in numbers.
Unions can exercise their power to negotiate better conditions for thousands of workers because there are thousands of workers to negotiate for. As Vella said, sometimes the sheer amount of people backing a proposal outweighs its content.
“If you’re interested in trade unionism you have to be prepared to find a lot of resistance, especially considering that sometimes it’s not the argument itself that persuades politicians but the numbers behind the arguments,” he explained.
2. Better salaries are just one facet of union work.
The history of unionism often begins with fighting for better pay for workers in different fields through collective bargaining. Today, with the rise of technology and the threat of COVID-19, it’s expanded much further than that.
“Salaries still remains an important aspect of the collective bargaining, but in today’s world people want family-friendly measures, they speak about the right to disconnect,” Vella said.
With more people working full-time, a lot of workers often think about how to juggle their work and family duties.
“We have parents, both of them working full-time but they still have a family, they have to see how they are going to rear their children and have some work-life balance with quality time becoming ever more precious.”
3. Speaking of the threat of COVID-19, it’s affected workers’ rights too.
“My fear is that there will be a continuous sort of excuse to halt the development of work conditions in Malta,” Vella said.
That’s why strong unions are key to make sure progress made isn’t lost.
“Obviously one of the main challenges is that we’re going through a pandemic and that is putting pressure on everyone, be it employers or employees,” he continued, warning that he has seen workers have their pay slashed due to the crisis.
4. Being a part of a union is about putting the collective before the individual.
If you want to be a change-maker in any sector or union, you need to make sure that your personal goals align with the greater good.
“The first question you have to ask yourself if you want to bring change is, what sort of change do I want to bring? Then, jot them down on a piece of paper and ask yourself if those changes are your personal wish list. If they are, please don’t join the Union.”
5. All in all, the fight for better workers’ rights is far from over.
Working conditions can fluctuate, as we’ve seen in this public health crisis. But that doesn’t mean employers have the green light to set all the terms and conditions.
In fact, a number of people working in Malta do not even have a working contract. A new online portal, Vella said, is seeking to empower people to access that right.
“The idea behind the portal is to see that what is written in the law is basically transported to our people at the grassroots At the moment, not every worker has a contract of work and sometimes there are instances where certain employers invent new forms of contract.
Hopefully, initiatives like these will keep sprouting up to make sure workers rights are kept a national priority.
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