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Updated: PL condemns 'threats' to Air Malta employees

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The Labour Party is not being informed and consulted on the restructuring of Air Malta, spokesman Gavin Gulia said this afternoon.

Addressing a news conference, Dr Gulia said Labour condemned the hostile manner in which the workers at Air Malta were threatened by the minister during the presentation of the budget last Monday.

He noted that the government was recalling its €52 million loan to Air Malta this year and asked whether this was the right time.

On tourism, Dr Gulia said that although he acknowledged the increase in the number of tourists, they were coming for shorter visits and therefore spending less.

Comparing the situation to other countries, he said that according to the World Tourism Organisation report, the number of tourists in Greece between January and September had increased by 14 per cent and in Portugal and Cyprus by 11 per cent. Malta, on the other hand, only had a seven per cent increase so there was a lot more that needed to be done.

He noted that hoteliers were to remain burdened with the same operating costs they had last year. This was in spite of indications that their revenue might drop because of the economic slowdown.

Chris Cardona noted that nothing had been said in the budget about reducing bureaucracy for foreign investors.

When foreign investors look at the cost base and economic and political in different countries and found them to be all the same, they then looked at bureaucracy for a competitive edge.

He also noted that the link between industry's demands and the supply of human resources was not addressed.

"There needs to be more preparation at technical schools which would equip students with the basic tools to utilise their maximum abilities in industry," he said.

Dr Cardona said the government had failed to admit that the service charge introduced on the tourism industry last year had been a mistake and had it not been for the PL's a motion in Parliament and pressure from the industry, it would not have been lowered.

He also spoke on the burden the utility bills placed on industry.

In a reply, Parliamentary Secretary for tourism Mario de Marco said that by diminishing the achievements of the tourism industry Dr Gulia was insulting all those who worked so hard in the sector.

TOURISTS ARE NOT LOW COST - DE MARCO

Facts showed that the tourism industry was doing very well all round while projections showed that 2011 would be a record year. In the first nine months of the year there had been an increase of some 70,000 tourists visiting the island when compared to the same period last year.

The same applied for the number of bed nights, with an increase of over 300,000 nights, and cruise passengers that, so far this year already surpassed the total registered last year.

He said that the total expenditure of tourists had also increased from €916 million last year to €997 million this year. This showed that tourists were not low cost as Dr Gulia said.

On Air Malta, he said it was important that the airline took decision to remain commercially viable and not to suit Malta’s tourism industry.

GOVERNMENT INVESTING IN ASSISTING INDUSTRY - TONIO FENECH

Finance Minister Tonio Fenech said that a budget incentive aimed to cut red tape was to set up the Business First initiative, creating a one stop shop for businesses.

He said that Malta Enterprise was also in discussions with the Malta Environment and Planning Authority so that masterplans would be created for industrial estates after which it would possible for factories to submit development notification orders instead of a full development application.

Mr Fenech said that 35 new projects and expansions were approved in the first 10 months of this year, investing €145 million and creating 700 jobs within three years.

These companies were given 85,161 metres squared of industrial space, €1.5m in assistance to acquire financing as well as other assistance through a number of schemes.

Mr Fenech said that between January and September Malta Industrial Parks invested around €700,000 to help in the building of two new factories and convert another 11 to the needs of the investors who were to start using them.

At the same time, another €70,000 in maintaining other factories and  €40,000 were spent on maintenance and embellishment works.

Of particular note was the assistance given by ME to companies that found themselves in difficulty because of the crisis in Libya.

Companies were also helped to invest in the generation of alternative energy and the proposed service charged was reduced following consultation with the Chamber of Commerce.

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