MPT supervisor warns of dangerous and unroadworthy buses in circulation

Malta Public Transport workshop supervisor accusing employer of forcing him to allow dangerous buses in circulation

The workshop supervisor claims that his employer is forcing him to allow dangerous buses in circulation or be fired
The workshop supervisor claims that his employer is forcing him to allow dangerous buses in circulation or be fired

A Malta Public Transport workshop supervisor has accused his employer of ignoring his concerns and attempting to force him to allow dangerous and unroadworthy buses to continue in circulation, some with brake pads so worn that their effectiveness at less than 30% - or face the sack.

The shocking allegation emerges from a judicial protest filed this morning by Claudio Cutajar, a workshop supervisor with over a decade of experience in heavy vehicle maintenance, including in workshops abroad, at MPT.

Together with the judicial protest Cutajar filed photographs of damaged parts, repair logs and WhatsApp chats with his boss. He states that the current situation is putting bus users and the public in general in danger.

Photos exhibited in court showing damaged parts and a WhatsApp chat
Photos exhibited in court showing damaged parts and a WhatsApp chat

“The internal situation regarding the lack of emergency maintenance required on buses is so serious that the protestant himself would be terrified if a member of his family rode a bus… It is so real that he will not allow his own son to take the bus.”

After the resignation of Robert Sofia, one of the MPT Directors, in May 2023, his Chilean replacement, Hector Astorga, had called a staff meeting in which he explained that the company was going through a financially tough period, in particular due to the large number of faults in the bus fleet, which was causing a large outlay for spare parts.  “He told them without mincing his words that if things did not improve, he would have to ‘pull down the shutters’ and fire them,” reads the court document.

Many mechanics had resigned after this meeting, which had the knock-on effect of massively increasing the workload on the small pool of remaining mechanics, who were unable to keep up with the demand for repairs, especially within the short deadlines they were given, as a result.

Even more mechanics quit when, in December 2023, Astorga cancelled all overtime, leaving Cutajar as one of only eight mechanics at the MPT transport garage.

Since January, Cutajar says that on several occasions he had been forced to approve as roadworthy, in his capacity as supervisor, buses which were dangerous to their passengers and to third parties - for example vehicles whose brakes “were evidently not functioning as they should and at their maximum.”

“Because the protestant refused to disobey his conscience and lie about the state of roadworthiness of several buses in the past few months, he was threatened and is being threatened with dismissal on made-up grounds, by management.”

One of the buses was leaking oil from its rear axle differential, which wet the wheel’s brake pads, causing them to slip and risk catching fire as the brakes heated up.

The kingpin for one of another bus’ front wheels was broken, which meant that there was a risk of the wheel becoming detached while the vehicle was in motion.

On that occasion, Cutajar said that his workshop manager, Joe Grixti, had tried to reassure him that if something went wrong and someone got hurt, he would “only have 50% of the responsibility, because the other 50% would be the company’s.”

The judicial protest states that Cutajar had replied by asking why he should be held responsible for something he did not want to do. As a result, he was issued with a written warning.

In February 2024, he said, Grixti and MPT Engineering Manager Danilo Overend had ordered Cutajar and two other supervisors to stop working night shifts, effectively removing them from being in a position to obstruct the certification of unroadworthy buses.

Accusing the public transport operator of being desperate to be rid of the plaintiff “because he is an honest worker who was not prepared to sell his soul or enter into demonic compromises at the expense of people’s health and safety,”

Cutajar said he had ended up being “framed” by his employer, and had received two warnings in the space of a single week in March 2024.

The judicial protest, signed by lawyers Jason Azzopardi and Kris Busietta, calls upon the company to cease and desist from making up false stories about him as revenge for him not disobeying the law and his conscience, or face a court case for damages.

READ ALSO: Malta Public Transport denies having unsafe buses in its fleet after employee’s judicial protest

Nationalist Party concerned by judicial protest

In a statement on Tuesday, the Nationalist Party’s transport spokesperson Mark Anthony Sammut said the judicial protest was a matter of great concern.

“People are paying millions in subsidies to the public transport operator. For this, people not only expect a good and timely service on all routes but, above all, they expect that when they get on a bus they are not risking injury or, worse than that, their lives,” he said.

He said rigorous inspections and testing on buses by the competent authorities are essential and should be carried out regularly to ensure the safety of passengers. Investigations into the allegations raised must be carried out urgently to ensure that people can use public transport without fear and with full confidence.

“It is the government's duty to ensure that the operators contracted by it are following the law and the highest standards of security and service so that people are served in the best possible way and without danger.”