Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Malta Today: GWU most migrant friendly, according to EU-funded study

Tuesday 24 January 2012 - 08:06 by James Debono

The General Workers Union is the most proactive union on ethnic and racial equality issues, according to an EU-funded study based on interviews with Malta’s three largest unions.

The GWU had itaken an active role in securing a proper wage for 55 Indian nationals who were being paid less than the minimum wage for their long working hours.

One of the reasons according to the report was the appointment of Terry Godsen who heads the GWU's section for migrants.

In this way the union can focus exclusively on the issue of inclusion and the protection of third country nationals, especially illegal migrants in the work place.

But the report notes that there was more concern among unions on the risk of Maltese workers facing unfair competition from migrants, most of whom work in the informal economy, than on the rights of the migrants. The report is based on interviews with the General Workers Union, the Union Haddiema Maqghudin and the Malta Union for Midwifes and Nurses.

According to the report the GWU had issued a paper on anti-discrimination on the grounds of race and ethnicity, and taken an active role in securing a proper wage for 55 Indian nationals who were being paid less than the minimum wage for their long working hours.

With regards to the UHM, the report notes that it supported the rights of migrant workers and said it was making efforts to protect them.

The MUMN was involved in a case relating to EU nurses who were being treated less favourably than Maltese nurses.

The unions were aware of equality issues to a certain extent but did not seem to have specific strategies to combat discrimination in general. The aim of the project was to analyse the roles taken by trade unions to fight all grounds of discrimination at the workplace and to highlight the most significant and innovative measures adopted by the unions.

According to the report none of the unions gave priority to discrimination based on religion or belief.

"None of the unions was aware of any cases of discrimination on these grounds".

The unions seemed less concerned with the issue of discrimination on the grounds of disability, assuming that this was the responsibility of the National Commission for Persons with a Disability (KNPD).

Trade union representatives agreed there was a higher level awareness of the issue of disabled persons at work, but not enough to ensure their integration into the labour market.

Neither was the issue of sexual orientation at the workplace was given much attention by the unions interviewed.

According to trade unionists, workers rarely go to the unions with complaints about this type of discrimination because it is a sensitive issue.

But a representative of the Malta Gay Rights Movement claimed that transgender people are normally excluded from the workplace and are not even called for the interview, while harassment was common and 'coming-out' remained a difficult issue for gays and lesbians.

A commentary on the EU commission report was published on the European Working Conditions observatory's website by Anna Borg Director of the Centre of Labour Studies in the University of Malta.

According to Anna Borg, Director of the Centre for Labour Studies, awareness about discrimination in the workplace seems to be increasing in Malta but unions may still need to be convinced about their role in ensuring an equitable and inclusive workforce.

"In times of economic crisis, unions are likely to feel that their priorities should be job retention and fair wages rather than combating various kinds of discrimination and promoting diversity," Borg added.

[Click on the hyperlink above to view the comments on Malta Today's website.]

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