Clyde Caruana concedes Labour pledge on mandatory union membership could pose problems

Chamber President Marisa Xuereb says government should enforce current legislation, rather than force workers to get unionised

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana
Finance Minister Clyde Caruana

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has conceded forced trade union membership could pose logistical issues for stakeholders involved in the process.

Caruana was speaking during a Malta Chamber of Commerce chat about human capital and education held on Monday.

In its electoral manifesto, the Labour Party says that in principle, it is in favour of making union membership mandatory and will kick off a discussion process with the social partners.

Caruana said the idea stems from the reality faced by a section of the workforce which are exploited due to not having the skills and financial stability to stand up for their rights.

“In a world where there is a lot of competition, and in certain sectors workers do not have the skills to stand up for their rights, employees are exploited. Not everyone, but it is a reality,” he said. “It is also a reality that unions will ensure their members are not exploited, while ensuring better conditions.”

But Caruana did acknowledge that such legislation would burden employers with logistical issues.

He also said he “understands” some employers will be skeptical of such a pledge. “But I also believe that once the proposal is tabled, a discussion with social partners will be held.”

Chamber President Marisa Xuereb asked the minister why not leave legislation as is, and concentrate on enforcement to ensure workers are not exploited.

“In the ideal world, yes, but sometimes you have to enforce, because a lot of workers are suffering from this situation,” Caruana replied.

She also said that in the in the same way the chamber believes businesses should not be forced to be part of it, in the same way workers should not be forced to join a union.

“We have a very good relationship with unions, but let us not leave with the mindset that everywhere workers are part of a union, they get better conditions. The Labour Force survey shows the best wages are in sectors which don’t have unions,” she said.

Xuereb said one of the sectors which is most heavily unionised, is teaching, and insisted results depend on the attitude of the union. “You could also be giving unions which don’t do anything to help their workers, even more strength to continue operating as they are doing, because enrolment is a guarantee.”

Caruana also conceded having all of the workforce unionised is impossible. “Not even countries which have a strong history of unionisation have reached similar figures. What we are saying is that those who want to get unionized the most, we will be making it easier for them.”

Xuereb also said such legislation could be endangering the country’s “social dialogue”.

“The reality of some people is that you have people who against their will are forced to shut up, because with a yearly wage of €12,000 they don’t risk jeopardizing their job. I am sure a proposal like this, when tabled, will receive the interest of the unions,” Caruana insisted.

Addressing the event, PN candidate Joe Grech insisted that while the party has proposals which strengthen unions and support enrollment, it will not be forcing workers to do so.

“In the same way people have a right to association, they have a right to disassociation,” he said.