Updated | UHM says public transport workers threatened over strike actions

Transport minister calls for responsibility as UHM industrial actions in public transport service continue

UHM secretary-general Josef Vella - Photo Ray Attard
UHM secretary-general Josef Vella - Photo Ray Attard
UHM secretary general at the press conference - Photo Ray Attard
UHM secretary general at the press conference - Photo Ray Attard

Public transport was this morning hit by a two-hour strike after the Malta Public Transport Services (MPTS) failed to come to an agreement with Union Haddiema Maghqudin.

Unless an agreement is reached, the actions will continue this evening with another two hour strike between 4pm and 6pm, a union official said, adding that the actions could go beyond the current orders in the coming days.

UHM secretary general, Josef Vella, addressing the media

Addressing the press at the bus terminus in Floriana this afternoon, UHM secretary-general Josef Vella said that bus drivers had been threatened that they would lose their job if they participated in the strike.

He added that “workers should be given the right to choose which union should represent them by holding an internal election.”

Vella said he could not understand why the company was resisting an independent verification by the Director of Employment, especially since this method was used to settle other disputes at the Malta International Airport, the Freeport and other companies.

Insisting that the actions called today were not a matter of political or trade union rivalry, Vella said that he felt confident that the majority of public transport workers were UHM members.

Earlier, the company issued a statement in which it insisted that despite the industrial action called by UHM, “public transport servcies were operating normally.”

The company also said that it had a contingency plan ready, “especially catering for situations of a call for industrial actions.”

Speaking to MaltaToday, UHM’s transport secretary Martin Caruana explained that MPTS had failed to recognise the union as the sole representative of employees.

In a statement issued this morning, the transport minister Joe Mizzi called on the union to shoulder its responsibility and said that groundless rows could disrupt the selection process of the new operator.

However, Caruana disagreed and said “this has nothing to do with the selection of the new operator and it has absolutely no effect on the negotiations.”

He also dismissed the minister’s claims that the union had failed to provide proof that it represented over 50% of MPTS employees, explaining that during a meeting held on Monday, UHM presented the company proof of this.

In the past weeks, the union demanded to have an independent verification of its representation by the Director of Industrial and Employment Relations, however the company has so far failed to ask for an independent verification.

“We do represent more than half of the employees, and during the meeting held yesterday not only did we present proof of this but the company representatives acknowledged this. However, despite promising to come back to us and confirm that we are the representatives of over 50% of the employees, we have not received any conformation,” Caruana said.

He explained that the unions are bound by data protection when providing details of their members and the only instance when this data can be provided is if the Director of Industrial and Employment Relations makes a formal request to verify representation within a company.

“The request by MPTS to see this data is illegal and we can only provide details of our members to the Director of Industrial and Employment Relations,” he said, adding that while a number of members have no qualm in making their affiliation to a union public, others sign a non-disclosure form and the union is bound by law.

Garage workers aside, UHM has become the major representative of public transport employees, including drivers. At the moment the only union recognised by the operator is the General Workers Union.

Explaining that if a union represents over 50% of workers in a particular company it automatically becomes the sole representative in dealing with the company on collective matters, Caruana said that unless the MPTS asks for an independent verification it couldn’t establish who is or who is not the sole representative.

“If no solution is found we will continue with the strike and escalate matters if need be,” he said.

Asked what kind of actions the union would be taking, Caruana said that the union’s council takes such decisions.