So much for workers' rights!
Over the past few years there has been a systematic drive towards increasing workplace flexibility. There has been mounting pressure towards turning our workforce into some sort of semi-molten piece of flesh, to fit all shapes and sizes of our industry's pockets and needs. All in the name of flexibility and increasing competitiveness.
This impetus has become widespread, but even more so in the part-time sector. Over the years, I have come across myriad cases, which in the name of increasing flexibility, have all managed to render our workers into a semi-resilient spanner in the works!
I have seen workers who aged in their own sector, and after 37 years of experience in broadcasting, and another 20 years of grandparenthood, receive a kick on their hind quarters out of their beloved jobs, by their own minister. All in the name of rendering broadcasting more economically feasible for the sake of the chosen few.
I have come across hotel employees, who used to be employed on a part-time basis in some of our industry's main resorts, who after years of being employed in next to Third World country conditions, ended up on a permanent waiting-call system.
Yes, a permanent waiting-call system, where they were left waiting for a call to fill in the bits of time needed for their jobs, without ever being called again. Their managers left them dangling, actually without terminating their contracts! All in the name of flexibility, and the needs of our beloved economic mainstay.
I have seen government school cleaners, who after being employed for years on end on a part-time basis for a pittance in wages, and also having to pay NI contributions, had to come to terms with their own destiny - all because they had to undergo major surgery. They were not given a second chance to be re-employed after regaining their health - all in the name of efficiency and keeping our schools tidy!
Lately, I have been inundated with calls from patients, union members (from more than one union!), and friends alike! All these people have one common outcry - that of rampant abuses in the security and cleaning sectors.
Complaints varied from having the workers register in more than one company, to remain qualified as part-timers (even after Government passed Legal Notice 46 a few months ago) to making them resign, re-employing them as self-employed, thus losing all leave entitlements!
More recently, I have also come across cases of part-timers having to settle for a decrease of 33c in their hourly overtime rate ad hoc - from an original Lm2.23 to Lm1.90! All in the name of coerced democracy!
What action has been taken by Government? It has issued a sort of letter of comfort - in the form of a DOI press release No. 1526, entitled 'Part-Timers Salvagwardjati' (Part-timers safeguarded), acknowledging these abuses and reminding workers that they can always register their complaints with the industrial tribunal!
Is that all?! Yes, no more and no less! So, may I ask you, dear reader, to register a complaint with this bureaucratic government structure, and may I also suggest you take a journey around the world with Jules Vernes. Only after landing back on this island would you stand a chance of getting any form of official redress.
There exists an enormous backlog of cases at the industrial tribunal. Government is actually trying to mould our so-called flexible workforce through a rigid bottleneck, which takes long months to drain through all pending cases.
This is not the fault of those who sit on the tribunal, but the sole responsibility of the one who sits in the driver's seat. Isn't it a shame that it takes months to reappoint tribunal members once their contracts have expired? But yes, that is what has happened this year! So much so, that there now is already a backlog of cases even before this new influx of complaints!
Why doesn't Government have the decency to improve HR within the Department of Labour? Why doesn't Government appoint an ad hoc commission (including members from the government, unions and employers) to examine these cases and deal with them directly in a more efficient way?
Remember that part-timers are not simply malleable nuts and bolts, but humans with feelings and family exigencies too!
Karl Chircop is opposition spokesman for Social Policy.