The refusal by the government to revise the agreement of port workers foremen who have been left waiting more than a decade, constitutes a huge injustice.

These workers are being denied the right to seek redress for the fact that the increase in the cost of living is eroding their income. Such situation is fuelling a form of discrimination against this category of workers who play a crucial part in the importation and distribution of goods in Malta. These foremen are instrumental in the logistical coordination to unload cargo in ports, excluding the Freeport, ranging from food products to raw materials for industry and construction.

While successive governments promised to address the situation, notably former Prime Minister Joseph Muscat who had even subscribed to the cause of these workers, the injustice has nonetheless lingered.

Consequently, last November UĦM Voice of the Workers, which is representing the Port Workers Foremen Cooperative, declared an industrial dispute.

Foremen are demanding that in the same way that other sectors of the economy, including this one, negotiate revisions to cater for the cost of living increase, they too exercise such option. In their request, foremen took into consideration the impact which such adjustment could have on the economy, in particular the final price of the imported product for the consumer.

A spokesman for the cooperative insisted that their request was made after an analysis which showed that if the Government accepted their request it would alleviate some of their expenses without burdening consumers.

However, UĦM is looking in the long term by proposing the introduction of a rate-adjustment mechanism for foremen. This idea is based on the successful introduction of the cost of living mechanism which was crucial in improving the relationship between social partners and government. Such proposal would also ensure that this issue will not crop up again in a few years’ time.

Meanwhile, the situation has continued to deteriorate as no investment has been made in the Grand Harbour’s infrastructure over the years, meaning that existing facilities are no longer adequate for the current volume of cargo.

UĦM Voice of the Workers is calling for the resumption of talks that stalled for months, despite the fact that a breakthrough was near and a report had been submitted.

Unfortunately, to date government seems unwilling to find a solution.  

“This is a unique situation. Workers should not find themselves in a situation whereby they are denied the chance to negotiate their working conditions,” a spokesperson for cooperative told Voice of the Workers Weekly.

“We will keep fighting for our right to negotiate better tariffs even at the cost of having to take industrial action,” the spokesman added.

Though industrial actions are in force already their effect is not being felt by consumers and businesses. However, this should not be taken lightly or as a vulnerability from the foremen’s part.

A spokesman for the UĦM Voice of the Workers stated that in the eventuality that these actions would escalate, the country’s imports and exports would be affected.

The union hopes that government understands that its intervention is necessary in order to find a solution for these workers and to avoid an escalation of industrial action.