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Title: Impasse over legitimacy of industrial action resolved
Authors: Debono, Manwel
Tabone, Charles
Keywords: Labor disputes -- Malta
Industrial relations -- Malta
Labor unions -- Malta
Issue Date: 2005
Publisher: European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions
Citation: Debono, M., & Tabone, C. (2005). Impasse over legitimacy of industrial action resolved. European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. Retrieved from:
Abstract: In March 2005, Malta's General Workers' Union was in disagreement with Enemalta, a state-owned corporation, over the legality of industrial action called by the trade union at Malta International Airport. As initial meetings failed to reach an amicable settlement, the government referred the issue to the Industrial Tribunal, while GWU pledged further action and sought the backing of the European Trade Union Confederation. Last-minute meetings led to an agreement and the suspension of GWU's plans to organise sympathy action. In March 2005, workers at the Malta International Airport (MIA) aircraft refuelling section following a General Workers' Union (GWU ( directive to take industrial action were suspended by the state-owned Enemalta Corporation over what it claimed was illegal industrial action. According to Enemalta, the collective agreement in force clearly stipulates that 'essential public services shall be maintained at all times'. Enemalta suspended its aircraft refuelling service at MIA after aviation consultants said that the GWU actions threatened aircraft safety. This brought the essential service to a standstill. GWU was also accused of breaching the collective agreement because it had allegedly failed to give Enemalta two working days' notice prior to taking industrial action. The GWU Chemicals, Energy and Printing Section secretary rejected these claims, stating that he had informed Enemalta’s chief executive about the intended directives 'well in advance'. The section secretary declared that at the beginning of March he had requested a meeting to address unresolved issues, including that of the complement of workers at the aviation section. On 7 March, he informed Enemalta that GWU would resort to industrial action if its request for a meeting was not met by the end of the week. The industrial action commenced on 16 March. Despite the entrenched positions held by the conflicting parties regarding the legality of the whole situation, a conciliatory meeting held three days after the commencement of the directives led to the agreement that GWU would lift its industrial action while Enemalta would allow the suspended aviation section workers back to work. However, the reconciliatory meetings which followed resulted in an escalation of tension between the parties. The GWU general secretary insisted that it was inconceivable for the union to accept the suspension of employees who followed a directive to take industrial action. He argued that Enemalta employees should be paid for the time when they were suspended. The general secretary also condemned Enemalta for allegedly asking its employees, following the action, to sign a declaration stating they would stop observing the union's directives. The minister in charge of Enemalta recommended that both parties settle the matter at the Industrial Tribunal where they would have the opportunity to choose an independent arbiter. The minister stressed that, following the tribunal’s decision, the party found responsible would have to; minister stressed that, following the tribunal’s decision, the party found responsible would have to incur all the expenses resulting from the industrial action. GWU did not accept this proposal, arguing that its members’ right to strike need not be discussed at the tribunal.
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