We have been let down
Months of discussion and an apparent willingness to try a different approach seemed to bode well. The Union Haddiema Maghqudin was championing the case for a social pact, the government was offering its support and the momentum was growing. All this was being spurred on by the current difficult economic situation. The idea of a social pact between the employer organisations, the unions and the government was somewhat of a novel one, at least for a country like ours used as it is to confrontation.
Months of discussion have however led nowhere. Once again the country was offered a false hope, a hope that things could be done differently. Not reaching agreement on a social pact for Malta means that we have all lost out.
The government has implemented 19 of the 22 measures proposed in the draft social pact drawn up by the chairman of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development but that is not the point. The point is that the organisations responsible for providing leadership have missed out on a golden opportunity. It was an opportunity to send a clear and unequivocal message to the rest of the country that it is time to act differently, that rather than confrontation, collaboration was to be the way forward. Unfortunately the opposite has resulted.
That differences would emerge was predictable enough. It is in the normal course of events that when bringing together different parties with such varying interests differences are bound to emerge.
However the one common interest, that of the country, should have been enough to "force" a common accord. It however seems that the interests of the country continue to come second. While every reasonable person on this island will acknowledge that the current environment requires that we all think and act somewhat differently the very same organisations that are there to represent our interests have collectively failed to act differently. This is not about individuals but about collective responsibility.
This is not to say that no effort was made. On the contrary, long hours of discussion were clocked and while some of those hours were lost on futile nothings such as who leaked what, a lot of constructive input was registered. However that much sought- after agreement continues to remain elusive.
Clearly the reasons for not reaching a common agreement are various. Some are justifiable while others are clearly not. At this point I would however question the lack of ambition demonstrated. Let's face it, the proposals being floated can hardly be described as dramatic. If agreement cannot be reached on a relatively straightforward measure such as not adding to annual leave public holidays falling on a weekend then we could indeed be facing dire times. Agreed, the interest of workers must be safeguarded, but at what cost? The aim has to be the safeguarding of jobs and the creation of new ones. A look at the agreement just signed between Volkswagen and one of the largest unions in Germany is enough to show us what our European colleagues are ready to do to safeguard jobs. They agreed to a wage freeze up to 2007 in exchange for a job guarantee up to 2012.
While failing to reach agreement is not in itself dramatic, what weighs is the fact that given this lost opportunity it is very unlikely that anyone will attempt anything similar for quite a few years to come. It is for this reason that we have been let down. The opportunity to do things differently could really and truly have been lost.