GWU flags TM discrimination; UĦM and ex-Chairman deny it

While the General Workers Union (GWU) have alleged ‘discriminatory’ Collective Agreement clauses towards their workers within Transport Malta, the UĦM Voice of the Workers (UĦM) denied having their Agreement pushed through without the proper approval. Former Transport Malta (TM) Chairman and current Land’s Authority CEO James Piscopo also stated that “there is no discrimination”, denying the implications in their entirety.

Sources close to TM’s management spoke with Newsbook.com.mt calling the attention of Collective Agreement discrepancies between the GWU members within the Merchant Shipping Directorate (MSD) and the Maritime Vessel Traffic Services (VTS), and the rest of the TM Management represented by UĦM.  They claimed that despite Malta’s Maritime Registry being the largest in Europe and the sixth largest in the world, TM and the Government boast about the sector while not properly commending the professional dedication of MSD employees.

Reports which have been since confirmed by Charlie Galea, the Secretary for the Professional, Finance, and Services Sector stated that the UĦM’s Agreement led to their members receiving “thousands more” in allowances than GWU members.

“James Piscopo created a large anomaly” – GWU

While Mr Galea had nothing to say about the UĦM, in fact he said, “I say good luck to the workers who took them and good luck to the Union who negotiated,” adding that, “This is not the Union’s fault.” Instead, he turned towards then TM CEO James Piscopo who “created the large anomaly” by allegedly approving an Agreement that was “concluded without the approval of the Industrial Relations Unit (IRU)”.

Mr Galea said that some discrepancies are obviously going to occur between Agreements, but having workers between the same entity with such differences is unjust. In fact, another discrepancy pointed out by the sources is that for the same managerial grade, MSD members are employed with Level 6 qualifications, be they marine, naval or mechanical engineers, Master Mariners or Chief Engineers. Meanwhile, other departments are required to have a level 5 Qualification for the same managerial grade. Speaking about specific allowances, Mr Galea said that another injustice is the fact that workers who don’t technically need them are getting them anyway. In fact, various industrial actions are being undertaken including workers being instructed not to use their cars on the job.

The GWU Secretary spoke of Transport Allowance of €2,500 a year plus 100 litres of fuel a month going to employees who only use their cars to go to and from work.  Mr Galea pointed out that perhaps Transport Malta should incentivise greener transport to its employees. The same case of extra allowances applied to the Communication Allowance which should be a subsidy to personal mobile phone use, but is being given to all employees falling under the UĦM agreement, according to the GWU.

The sources also spoke of a double performance bonus given to all managerial grades within the TM except for members of the MSD. They also added that while negotiating with James Piscopo, some of the allowances were being discussed for GWU members, but these were rejected a number of times on the condition that no other TM managerial grades will receive them.

“No information that it was nor IRU approved” – UĦM

Newsbook.com.mt also contacted Kenneth Abela, the UĦM Voice of the Workers’ Employment Relations Manager within the Transport and Port Section who said that he has “no information that it was not approved by the IRU” when speaking of their negotiated Collective Agreement. In fact, he pointed out that while the GWU seemingly rushed negotiations and had their agreement signed by November 2017, the UĦM took their time and officially signed it in February 2018.

Mr Abela also speculated that the reason why this issue has cropped up now is that perhaps the GWU realised that the UĦM got its members a better package and “they might want to reopen negotiations with the authority”. He also pointed out that for them to have signed the Agreement in the first place, the GWU was clearly happy and there are obligations that now need to be honoured on both sides.

Meanwhile, Mr Abela also pointed out that there were certain inequalities in the GWU’s Agreement as well, namely that certain employees went up a number of pay grades, according to information he received. That being said, he did concede that there are a number of allowances that UĦM members are getting that the GWU members are not.

The sources in turn clarified Mr Abela’s claim and said that, while both agreements have their pay grades at par, it was the managerial grades under UĦM who were “honoured with plenty of allowances and bonuses.”

The UĦM Manager concluded by pointing out that, “We didn’t get everything we wanted, God forbid either side gets everything they want.” He added that, “That’s why there is bargaining and negotiation to find a middle-ground close to what you want.”

“There is no discrimination” – James Piscopo

Newsbook.com.mt also contacted Mr James Piscopo to get his side of the story, particularly considering the implications concerning his role in the negotiations.

After attempted phone calls, a brief email correspondence was curtly concluded after this newsroom sent in questions at Mr Piscopo’s request after originally asking for a phone interview. The questions were as follows:

  • Can you confirm that the Collective Agreements as you approved of them are creating disparity between the MSD and the rest of TM?
  • What reasoning was there behind approving such varying Agreements?
  • Did you consult the IRU before approving the UĦM’s Agreement?
  • Are you aware of any industrial action being taken by the MSD as directed by the GWU, and had it started before were given this position within the Lands Authority?
  • Were you ever approached by any employees who had problems with the Agreements? And did anything come out of any meetings in that case?

Piscopo’s short reply echoed Mr Abela’s sentiment that “both unions were happy to conclude their respective, distinctive, sector-specific, collective agreements which resulted in significant financial increases for all employees.” He also clearly stated on the offset that “there is no discrimination”.

The former Chairman also said that it “would be improper” for him to comment on TM’s behalf, specifically mentioning that there are still ongoing discussions six months after he moved on to his role as CEO of the Lands Authority.

Sources confirmed that actions are still ongoing. However, current TM top management is not willing to improve this situation. This in spite of informal meetings in which officials from the Transport Ministry allegedly admitted that this was a gross mistake and pure injustice against the GWU represented managerial grades. Newsbook.com.mt was also told that a substantial portion of TM’s professional managers who received the disputed allowances are now working under the moniker of Infrastructure Malta.