Jobs plus indeed!

Unfortunately organisations like trade unions, as well as NGOs, tend to abandon their mission statement when their income no longer depends on the subscriptions of their members.

UHM chief executive Josef Vella (left) and secretary-general of the GWU Josef Bugeja (right)
UHM chief executive Josef Vella (left) and secretary-general of the GWU Josef Bugeja (right)

In July 2015 the state employment agency – then known as the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) – issued a request for proposals (RFP) for the setting up, operation and management of the Community Work Scheme enterprise foundation.

The idea was for the foundation to take over and employ those persons currently enrolled in the Community Work Scheme of the ETC and/or any other persons whom the ETC may deem appropriate for this purpose, to be transferred to the Foundation that would subsequently be offering their labour services for a social purpose, notably to schools, Local Councils, NGOs and/or any other entity identified in writing by the ETC... at ‘advantageous and affordable costs’.

The original ‘community scheme’ launched by the Gonzi administration was run directly by the ETC and workers in the scheme who were still considered as unemployed were given part-time work with government entities without losing their social benefits.

With the new scheme, participants are given the minimum wage and are therefore considered to be in full ‘employment’. In fact, with the change of the scheme, a number of workers suddenly switched from the unemployment register to being full-time employees in the private sector – a statistical miracle, if there ever was one.

Somehow or other a GWU-owned entity eventually won a tender for the running of one of these schemes. Apparently the UHM is running something similar. In other words, we have trade unions making money out of the placement and monitoring of so-called ‘unemployable’ people.

There are several interesting issues that one could take up after trying to grapple with this sequence of events in order to have a clear picture of a muddled situation that was virtually unknown to the general public... until last weekend ‘The Sunday Times’ broke the story alleging that the GWU will be earning €8.5 million (over five years) from the government jobless scheme. The exact figure that the GWU will eventually pocket led to much public bickering. I do not intend going up that cul-de-sac that will lead to nowhere but to more useless bickering.

Another issue is whether the ‘privatisation’ of the scheme was really necessary – except to statistically transfer the workers from the number of unemployed to the number of those employed with the private sector. The government seems more than happy with spending more public money – our taxes – to bolster its impressive employment statistics.

My concern, however, is whether a trade union should be doing the job of an employment agency and/or a human resources consultancy.

A trade union is an ‘organisation of workers united to protect and promote their common interests and its principal purpose is to (1) negotiate wages and working conditions terms (2) regulate relations between its members and the employer, (3) take collective action to enforce the terms of collective bargaining (4) raise new demands on behalf of its members and (5) help settle their grievances.’ (

And the same website defines employment agencies as privately owned companies or state entities that ‘attempt to match the employment needs of an employer with a worker having the required skill set and interests.’

I sincerely believe that the GWU (and the UHM) are treading dangerous territory where there are evident conflicts of interest and where money has come before principles.

Admitting that workers in the community scheme are doing the same work as regular government employees but being paid less for it, Minister Evarist Bartolo ‘explained’ that they are getting 25% more than they previously earned (i.e. when they were considered unemployed) adding that the next step would be a wage equal to the industry standard.

Now the GWU has been more than vociferous with its attitude towards what it describes as ‘precarious work’ carried out by underpaid employees in the private sector – more so when such employees are doing the same work as normal employees. Let me give an example: A cleaner directly employed by the government costs more than a cleaner employed by the private sector doing the same work in a government department or entity.

This is, as a matter of principle – anathema for the GWU. Now the same GWU is – indirectly or almost – doing the same thing and earning money out of the process.

It is said that everybody has a price and that money can buy anything – except principles I used to think.

Unfortunately organisations like trade unions, as well as NGOs, tend to abandon their mission statement when their income no longer depends on the subscriptions of their members. I have seen genuine organisations take off and becoming strange animals when they find alternative sources of revenue and no longer depend on the money forked out by their individual members.

That is when they forget what they stand for and become soulless machines.

Is this the definitive watershed moment when the GWU crossed the jungle and flipped from defending workers from abuse to becoming just another capitalist exploiter?


Merkel and May

The difference between the two leading female European leaders is palpable – even though both are the daughters of Protestant ministers.

As more time passes, the cynical side of Theresa May’s character keeps on surfacing more frequently. The way she behaved before and during the Brexit referendum and her ‘Brexit means Brexit’ meaningless pontification speaks volumes of her character. She is turning out to be a spineless wheeler dealer, nothing more.

Her wheeling and dealing currently serves to hide the impossible situation that she is in while boasting that all will be ok at the end. Neither she nor her advisors and the Brexit bright boys, who boasted that they did not need any experts’ advice, admit that they are slowly moving into the predicted Brexit mess. Their posturing is nothing but empty talk that reflects an illusory state of denial.

Compare this with Angela Merkel, if indeed such a comparison is possible. Merkel is a woman of principle who knows what she wants for her country and for Europe. She was the only leader who dared make an important caveat in her congratulatory message on Donald Trump’s election to the White House bedroom.

She stuck to her policy about migrants, backed by a logic that was both Christian and economically sound – even though she temporarily lost her appeal to some of her own supporters.

Principles are principles, whatever the polls say.

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