The other side of the table | Gejtu Vella

Union Haddiema Maghqudin’s secretary-general Gejtu Vella is calling it quits after 13 years at the helm of one of Malta’s main unions, often perceived to be at politically polar opposites of the General Workers Union

“I felt it was time to move aside and make way for new blood,” Gejtu Vella, the 52-year-old UHM secretary-general says as he prepares to step down from a position he has held for the past 13 years. “I honestly have no idea what I’m going to do next. I love work and I have no pastime – except reading and listening to music.”

Vella is thinking of publishing a book he’s been putting together on industrial relations, but so far he’s not thinking of entering into the political fray. “I honestly don’t know what I’m going to do. Politics is not on my agenda at this stage.”

Instead he laughs at suggestions that he is being given some plum job: “According to many, I’m going to be an ambassador, or a political party candidate…”

Politics is certainly no new field for Vella, as he explains the difference between being a union boss under two Nationalist prime ministers. “With Eddie Fenech Adami we used to discuss a problem and find a solution. With Lawrence Gonzi we discuss a problem, we try to find a solution… and then keep on discussing more until we find a solution,” he says, struggling to find the correct word to differentiate between the two prime ministers.

Vella finally explains that Fenech Adami was more “open” and “reachable.”

“I remember that whenever I needed Fenech Adami, I used to approach him and we would address the problem immediately. He would call for the ministers concerned. But with Gonzi it’s different… it’s more difficult to get to him. There is a tier of ministers which you have to refer to before going to the prime minister. Fenech Adami was more accessible.”

Vella admits the last time the UHM was in an official meeting with Gonzi was some six to seven months ago.

“On the other hand, with Fenech Adami we used to meet up frequently. Even more with Labour prime minister Alfred Sant. He would even call us himself to set a meeting.”

And so he turns back to Gonzi: “Is it possible that nothing happened these last seven months, at all? Is there nothing he needs to tell us which concerns workers? Is there nothing that we can tell him?”

Vella says the PN needs to do some soul-searching and reconnect to what it is supposed to stand for. “The PN was a much more centre-left party before. Today it has a centre-right leaning. Even the people don’t feel the harmony that once connected them to the party. It needs to listen to the grassroots. Politics should start from the bottom, up… not the other way round.”

With a ghost of a smile, he adds that many make up their own mind on how he [Vella] votes. Probably, this derives from the fact that many associate the UĦM to be sympathetic with the PN…

“This is simply not true. The union has never affiliated itself with PN,” Vella replies pointedly, while offering a simple, logical answer to the ‘misguided’ perception: “For many years in the past, the GWU was statutorily connected with Labour. Since the UĦM and the GWU are the biggest union groups on the island, by elimination, the UĦM was perceived as having links with the PN.”

Was it a simply “by elimination”, or was it for the fact that the UĦM never participated in strikes in which the GWU had a hand in?

“While it is good that the right to protest and to strike are available, the UĦM worked to defend social dialogue as its most important instrument, and not just in workers’ best interests, but also the country’s… it’s vital to maintain industrial peace.”

By way of example, Vella says the UĦM did not join in the national strike against VAT in 1995. “And is there anyone today who would speak against VAT? Wasn’t it then a wise decision for the union not to participate? Today’s reality is that there needs to be some form of taxation in our country.”

Vella says everyone is a phone call away and one should simply put things in perspective and say how things are not going well and explain. “If you pick up the phone and do it in an intelligent manner you would gain their trust. If it gets serious do the right thing, but do not threaten.”

He also distinguished his union from the GWU when it became a protagonist in the campaign for EU membership. “Today no union or party talks against EU membership… being independent and on the right side of history is what makes us proud.”

But then the UĦM has not seriously bought into the call to create a trade union council, giving the impression it is not keen to join it. Referring to the GWU, Vella says the UĦM cannot be part of a union where “on every possible occasion they come out with attacks against me and or against the union.”

Does he expect the GWU to give up one of its two MCESD seats to allow the 11-union confederation Forum, so far denied its own seat, to take a place in the the council for economic and social development?

“No not at all… but the GWU has a close relationship with Forum. Would it be doing anything wrong if it does so?

“Why shouldn’t the pensioners’ association and other civil society organisations have their own seat? Why do we (UHM) have a seat, the CMTU has another chair, while the GWU has two?”

One of Vella’s latest campaigns was against the employment of workers on a self-employed basis in the public sector. He says the Employment Relations Board is working on the matter, but I point that even the Employment and Training Corporation is still putting out calls for such employment. Vella said the practice has now spread from the private into the public sector.

“Legal consultants were promoting it with employers so they would not be tied with working conditions. Workers were being giving the short end of the stick, as employers were safe and had no responsibilities towards the self-employed worker.

“For the past three years, UHM has insisted that workers on fixed hours should not be employed on a self-employed basis. This is wrong and whoever does it is abusing workers.”

Does he believe that it is possible for Malta to retain a generous welfare state, while also having room for lower taxation, as has been claimed by Labour?

“The truth is one should start worrying when someone promises everything under the sun,” Vella says in a reference towards the Labour Party’s own pledges. “Anyone who makes a promise should explain its cost. We know from where this country’s income comes from: our taxes. And education and health are not ‘free’, because we pay for them through our taxes. The question to ask is if we are getting value for our money?”

And does he think the taxpayer is getting value for his money today?

“I sometimes suspect we are not,” he says. “That is why we need to strengthen those structures that can make sure the public’s money is being spent in the most efficient and productive way.”

Luke Camilleri
U hallina Gejt..... Min qieghed jithaq b'Min? Zgud mhux il-membri tal -UHM ta' kemm qaghad placidu taht ir-renju ta' Gonzi...kollok skuzi u kollok pozi mal-imwejjed TNAQQAR l'Hor Doevres ma ma titniffes xejn kull meta JITNAQQRU il-beneficji u d-drittijietbhal tnaqqis fil-granet tal-Leave, ma titlobx zidiet bhal ma kont taghmel fi zmien Alfred Sant..... mt titkellhimx meta SPLODEW il-kontijiet tad dawl... u bl-akbar Ippokrezija tieghek , LI MA TAPPOGGAX IL-FORUM fuq l-MCESD! . Int mhux fergh jew zwieg kellek mal -P.N. imma kont POGGUT u kornut kuntent ma GOBNZIPN!
Go and tell it to the marines Gejt that the UHM is not a PN baby.
Gejtu Vella is the one who called the other unions as "Purcinelli" because they demonstarted against the attrocious increases in the electricity and water tariffs. What has Gejtu done for UHM members in his 13 years at the helm except getting them to strike and ask for a LM9 (€24.97)weekly increase when Dr Sant was PM then afterwards simple acted his real self as a EFA's and gonzi's pet . . "“The truth is one should start worrying when someone promises everything under the sun,” Vella says in a reference towards the Labour Party’s own pledges." What a gall what about gonzi 2008 promises didn't they worry him or was he content hoping that his silence would buy him some lucrative job in Brussels.?
Quoting Gejtu Vella.............I remember that whenever I needed E.F.A.,I use to approach him and we address the problem immediately .He could call for the ministers concerned. BUT WITH GONZI IT`S DIFFERENT. IT IS MORE DIFFICULT TO GET TO HIM............Sur Gejtu, mhux ovvja li ma Gonzi differenti. E.F.A. kien imexxi lil partit nazzjonalista, u il gvern.....Gonzi bidel l-isem tal partit ghal GONZIP.N. u bhal ma qal huwa stess lil l-Ambaxxatur Amerikan. " Ma ghandux kandidati kapaci imexxu il Ministeri " Anzi ammetta li qeghed imdawwar bl`imbecilli ..........L`anqas jikonsulta ghax ma jafdax lil membri tal kabinett u lil membri l-ohra......Ahseb u ara kif tridu isib hin u jafda lilek...Pero tinshiex li int dejjem servejt ta staffa.........Ovvjament ghal Partit Nazzjonalista.
Let us not forget that the UHM was set up an created by the PN to counter the weight of the GWU. Though it attained a certain degree of independence, it never really cut fee from its roots.