Civil service agreement signed

A six-year collective agreement which will cost government an additional €190 million and will see civil servants receive an annual pay rise of 2.5% and benefit from more family-friendly measures was signed yesterday afternoon.

The agreement was signed by the head of the public service, principal permanent secretary Godwin Grima, and by representatives of the trade unions representing the roughly 30,000 civil servants: The General Workers’ Union, the Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin, the Forum trade union confederation, the Malta Union of Teachers, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses, the Medical Association of Malta, the Union Periti u Inġiniera tas-Servizz Pubbliku and the Malta Union of Professional Psychologists.

The MUPP was set to refuse to sign the agreement, but a last-minute breakthrough in negotiations – just a couple of hours before the agreement was signed – led it to change its mind.

The last agreement had expired in 2010, and the new one will see civil servants’ salary increase by around 13% by 2016.

Civil servants may also benefit from improved family-friendly measures and from greater eligibility to them. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi noted that around 3,700 civil servants currently benefited from family-friendly measures including reduced hours, teleworking and flexi-time arrangements, and this number was now set to double.

Dr Gonzi said that the government was mindful of the civil service’s role as a model employer, and augured that the private sector would recognise that family-friendly measures benefited employers as well as employees and implemented them. The government would have lost countless valuable employees were it not for such measures, he remarked.

The prime minister also said that the decision to increase the term of collective agreements for the civil service – traditionally, they covered three-year periods – had proven to be a success the last time round, insisting that the ensuing stability within the civil service helped the country handle the effect of a global economic crisis.

He said that the years ahead would also be challenging and insisted that the agreement would make the civil service better equipped to help push the country forward and assist the private sector.

Dr Gonzi reserved words of praise for the trade unions involved, welcoming their reasonable demands and stating that they acted responsibly throughout the negotiation process.

These negotiations were not a simple process, Finance Minister Tonio Fenech acknowledged, but added that he was honoured and satisfied to see them brought to a successful conclusion.

He stressed the agreement was a financially sustainable one, despite its hefty price tag. It would certainly be scrutinised by the European Commission, he said, but it was also certain that it would receive its blessing.

Mr Fenech also noted that the government did not believe salaries should stay put, in a clear but indirect reference to the Labour Party, which the government insists, despite numerous denials, aims to freeze the minimum wage. He added that the civil service’s salaries had to be good enough to attract talented workers, and pointed out that the increase in salaries took place while cuts were being implemented elsewhere in Europe.

The minister also said that the agreement would increase the efficiency of the public service. Later on, Dr Gonzi pointed out that ultimately, the salaries were paid through people’s taxes, and stressed that they were expecting a return on their investment in the form of greater efficiency.

The timing of the agreement had led the Malta Employers’ Association to call for a revision of the practice of negotiating such agreements on the eve of an election. The MEA had also argued that wage increases should be tied to increased productivity, while the Chamber of Commerce argued that summer half-days should have been abolished.

Psychologists’ union reaches last-ditch agreement with government

The Malta Union of Professional Psychologists announced yesterday that an eleventh-hour agreement had been reached with the Public Administration Collective Bargaining Unit with respect to a revision of the Psychology Class Agreement, and as a result, the union was in a position to sign the long-awaited collective agreement for all government employees.

On Sunday, the union – which is a member of the Confederation of Malta Trade Unions – said that because the Psychology Class Agreement hadn’t been finalised, it would not be signing the general collective agreement. The union organised a news conference two hours before the signing ceremony of the collective agreement for all government employees (which took place yesterday at 4pm).

Bernard Caruana, president of the psychologists’ union, explained that an agreement had been reached 15 minutes before the news conference was scheduled to begin.

The Psychology Class Agreement is the oldest sectoral agreement and was never revised since it was first signed in 1996.

Asked why it has taken so long for any progress to be registered, Mr Caruana said: “There had been delays in the negotiations on the agreement and we hadn’t received decent proposals from the government side.”

Although he was hesitant about giving details, he said the new agreement will provide for an improvement in the services provided. He said that although psychologists will not get an increase in their salaries per se, they will get an increase in allowances and their scales will also improve.

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