Social partners present proposals for reform of economic and social council

Earlier this year, the chair of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development resigned in the wake of a government call for the council to be reformed. The social partners are in agreement with the government’s aim to restructure the council and have put forward their proposals for improving its operations.

Need for restructuring

The Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD), Malta’s highest forum for tripartite concertation, was established by an act of parliament (Act No. XV) in 2001. In recent times, the government stated that the council should enter ‘a new phase’ by expanding and improving current operations given its need for reform.

On 27 February 2007, the Chair of the MCESD, Victor Scicluna, drafted a letter of resignation to the Prime Minister, Lawrence Gonzi, in which he stated that, after leading the council for four years, it would be better if the reigns were handed over to somebody else. While the letter of resignation was accepted, Mr Scicluna was asked to remain in the position until the government found a suitable person ‘for the sensitive post’. Although the reasons for Mr Scicluna’s resignation are not precisely known, sources reported that he was dissatisfied that a number of organisations represented on the council no longer sent top representatives to meetings. Moreover, there was disappointment regarding a number of public statements about the way the MCESD was functioning and the lack of leadership within the council.

It seems that Mr Scicluna left behind him a consultative forum in dire need of reform. In the past, the council was accused of having been absent from discussions on some of the most important national issues, making the council ‘a talking shop’. The most damaging let down for the MCESD was the failure of the social pact two years ago (MT0501101N).

Views of social partners

The social partners represented on the council drafted a variety of proposals aimed at making the MCESD more effective. Both the General Workers’ Union (GWU) and the Union of United Workers (Union Haddiema Maghqudin, UHM) strongly believe in restructuring the council and presented their suggestions on what the reform should entail.

UHM proposed the following reform measures:

  • the council should re-establish itself as a decision-making body in addition to being a consultative one;
  • each member on the council should have an equal vote, with the casting vote falling to the chairperson;
  • the method of decision-making and setting of the agenda should be changed.

GWU also put forward various ideas for the council’s reform:

  • the council should have equal representation for employers, workers and civil society;
  • direct involvement from the government should be excluded from the council;
  • the council should be able to set up sub-committees on various matters;
  • the main aim of the council should be to seek the widest possible consensus among members;
  • the council should be able to invite to its meetings members of the European Parliament and of economic and social committees, as well as of the Forum which is a group of Maltese trade unions;
  • members of the council should appoint the president who should serve the council for two years.

The social partners sitting on the council all agree on the fact that the MCESD needs to be better equipped and have better resources to be able to carry out its functions. The President of the Federation of Industry (FOI), Adrian Bajada, pointed out how discussions held within the council were always influential, but he emphasised that more human resources are needed to keep interested bodies informed about ongoing developments.

The Gozo Business Chamber (GBC) and the Gozo Tourism Association complained that Gozo is not represented on the MCESD. The two organisations requested that, in the course of the council’s reform, the government should take the necessary actions to ensure that Gozo is represented on the MCESD in the future.

Commentary

Although both the government and the social partners concur that the MCESD needs to be reformed, they disagree on some major issues such as the government’s role and the legal status of the council. The outcome of such debate will most likely affect Malta’s industrial relations scene in the years to come. Thus, it is important that all options be thoroughly considered in view of the country’s emerging needs and a compromise be reached among all the major actors.

Christine Farrugia and Manwel Debono, Centre for Labour Studies, University of Malta

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