Collective bargaining services should not be free – UĦM
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Collective bargaining services should not be free – UĦM

Union says workers should pay if they benefit from better conditions

Dr Karin Schönpflug, Institute of Advanced Studies Vienna, Dr Martin Balzan, Confederation of Malta Trade Unions president, Josef Vella, CEO, UĦM Voice of the Workers and Matthew Brincat, representative of the Malta Employment Lawyers Association who took part in yesterday’s debate.

Dr Karin Schönpflug, Institute of Advanced Studies Vienna, Dr Martin Balzan, Confederation of Malta Trade Unions president, Josef Vella, CEO, UĦM Voice of the Workers and Matthew Brincat, representative of the Malta Employment Lawyers Association who took part in yesterday’s debate.

Workers should not be forced to enrol in a trade union, but if they benefit from better conditions through collective bargaining they should be obliged to make a financial contribution, UĦM Voice of the Workers is proposing.

The idea was floated by UĦM CEO Josef Vella during the opening session of an annual two-day seminar organised in collaboration with the European Centre for Workers’ Questions.

Mr Vella was reacting to a recent proposal by the Prime Minister who called for a discussion on the possibility of introducing mandatory membership in both trade unions and employers’ associations. The move was justified on the grounds that a unionised workforce would be a deterrent for precarious employment, exploitation and abuse.

However, with the exception of the General Workers Union, this solution was rejected on various grounds, including possible breach to the right of free association.

In his remarks Mr Vella spoke in favour of the “agency shop model” whereby non-union members pay a fee whenever they benefit from a service negotiated by a trade union. However, the money would not go to their coffers but a centralised fund meant to finance research and statistical initiatives by trade unions.

A centralised fund meant to finance research

“Such model is based on the principle that anybody benefitting from a service should contribute in some form or another,” Mr Vella remarked.

“This is even more the case, as at present free-riders [non-members] stay on the fence, knowing they would nonetheless benefit from better conditions if a new collective agreement is signed,” the UĦM CEO added.

The debate also focused on the UĦM’s proposal for the setting up of an internet portal offering employment contract templates based on the basic provisions of the Maltese law. This proposal is being floated to prevent the exploitation of workers engaged without a contract.

Matthew Brincat, who was on the debate panel on behalf of the Malta Employment Lawyers Association, expressed disagreement on the grounds that both sides would be stripped of the freedom to contract.

Instead, Dr Brincat called for stricter enforcement as otherwise even with the template system in place abusive practices from some employers would persist.

However, he said that they would consider introducing such measure on a voluntary basis, in order to have a reference point when drafting contracts.

The conference was also addressed by Nationalist Party MEP Roberta Metsola who called on the authorities to crackdown on worker exploitation in the wake of the recent tragic death of a Libyan construction worker who fell to his death due to a lack of protective measures.

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