UĦM Voice of the Workers had every right to act in the case of the St. John’s Co-Cathedral Foundation employees who were not paid on the designated day in breach of the collective agreement.

This emerged during a conciliation meeting between UĦM officials and the Foundation’s management which was presided by the Director of Industrial Relations and Employment.

The dispute arose last month on the day when employees were supposed to receive their salary. It transpired that on that same morning they received an email from the management saying that due to a banking problem they would not be getting paid on that day but after the weekend, on Monday.

UĦM section manager Cher Smith told Voice of the Workers Weekly that the union left in the dark about this and was only alerted by the employees.

“As soon it was flagged to us, UĦM proposed to pay in cash those workers who were not in a financial position to wait three days to get paid, also keeping in mind that some had additional expenses associated with the start of the scholastic year,” Smith said.

However, the management refused and insisted that the workers be paid by cheque.

“For us this was not a good solution as it would result in employees having to wait several days until it would be processed,” the UĦM manager said added.

This was not the first time such incident happened, as there were two other cases, the last one in 2019. As a matter of fact, a specific clause was added in the subsequent collective agreement.

It was in these circumstances that UĦM issued a directive for the following Monday, whereby workers were to report for work in plain clothes and distribute a note to visitors explaining the reason behind their symbolic protest. The directive was lifted on the same day as soon as employees started receiving their salaries in the bank account.

“In reality the action taken did not have any negative repercussions on the operation of the Foundation or financial consequences because it was just a symbolic gesture. UĦM took a prudent approach even though it had every right to take more drastic action,” Smith said.

The issue was on the agenda of a conciliation meeting in which it turned out that the problem was not the bank’s fault but due to a shortcoming from the management as the salaries were processed belatedly. Though there were already signs of an impending problem as the payslip was not sent on time, the management kept everything under wraps and only notified the workers on pay day.

That is why UĦM recommended that  salaries should be processed earlier to have ample time to rectify the situation, should complications arise, and hence assure that workers are paid on time.

On her part, the Director of Employment and Industrial Relations made it amply clear that employers must find a way to respect the pay date.

The UĦM manager explained that no serious union could turn a blind eye to such shortcomings but at the same time should weigh its response carefully.  

Voice of the Workers Weekly also spoke to other UHM section managers who confirmed how such cases create suffering for those workers who fall in the category of working poor. This definition applies to those who despite being in employment still struggle to make ends meet. Therefore, UĦM has a duty to safeguard these vulnerable workers, as a late payment could mean incurring fines from the bank for defaulting on their loan payments. When such thing happens workers bear the brunt unfairly, and consequently such conduct is unacceptable.