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Unions join forces against austerity

Maltese workers have had to endure their fare share of austerity measures in the form of high utility bills, a top union official said today.

GWU general secretary Tony Zarb said the higher utility bills families have been paying for the past few years were akin to the austerity measures blighting European economies.

He was speaking at a half-day seminar this morning organized by the GWU and the two trade union federations CMTU and Forum to mark the European day of action and solidarity.

The seminar itself was historic because it put aside the bad blood that flowed in the past between the CMTU and the other two organizations.

Union leaders augured that the conference should signal the start of more cooperation between trade unions.

Mr Zarb's concern on utility rates was reflected in comments made by CMTU president William Portelli.

"We have to be cautious and responsible in the way energy is managed in this country to make sure it does not end up being a burden on families and SMEs," Mr Portelli said.

Forum president John Bencini said another sign of austerity was the Governments's insistence in the civil service collective agreement not to pay the arrears for 2011 as was customary every time these agreements were signed. He described this as "austerity by stealth".

Union leaders criticized the widespread austerity in Europe, adding the money countries were pouring into their economies were aimed at salvaging German and French banks rather than boosting work opportunities.

Mr Bencini said unions across the EU were up in arms because workers were paying the consequences for their governments's irresponsible actions over the years.

He said the countries that were performing well and creating jobs had educational systems that always topped Europe-wide classifications. "Education is the key and Malta cannot remain with a system that still produces students without basic skills," he warned.

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