The 380 at the ports - Fast-changing maritime technologies and work practices are the main challenges in port work
Photo: Matthew Mirabelli
Few know that port workers are regulated by Article 171 of the Port Ordinance Act enacted on March 1, 1950, and that at any one point, there can only be 380 registered port workers.
“There’s this image out there that port workers are an unruly lot. Truth be told, the job is a very strenuous one, as tough and raw as it gets,” says Ing. Ryan Fava, president of the Malta Dockers Union. “However, port workers today are an extremely organised group of workers, much more organised than what the impression out there could be. Indeed, we have come a long way.”
A mechanical engineer by profession, Ing. Fava ‘inherited’ his port worker job from his father in 2010. Although he chose to concentrate on his engineering career, being a licensed port worker remains a source of pride for him.
“Engineering is my passion but although I chose to work as an engineer, I consider port work a unique privilege and always felt that there was a lot I could offer to bring this profession forward. My colleagues here at the port saw this in me and pushed my nomination as a shop steward, which eventually led to my role as president of the Malta Dockers Union in July 2014, a post which comes with great responsibilities.”
The Malta Dockers Union was established in 2006 by the late Joseph Saliba and his committee.
“My job is to safeguard continuity for the great job done by those before me.”
During his term, Ing. Fava has managed to diversify and restructure the way the union operates and introduced a more professional outlook towards port work in favour of higher standards, which are now benefitting the local industry.
“The fact that we are a regulated body and that all our members are registered licensed port workers regulated by the Port Ordinance Act and other local legislation is an advantage, because it gives us the strength to push for reforms that make our job better, more efficient and, most importantly, safer.
“The port worker’s job is a very laborious one in a high-risk environment, always exposed to the elements, 360 days a year with no paid leave. It is a very strenuous job where commitment, hard work and attention to detail are the order of the day.
“Today, technology is increasingly shaping most industries and ours is no exception. Therefore, we have had to keep responding to these modern-day dem-ands to secure the two most important things for our workers: efficiency and safety,” says Ing. Fava.
Ing. Fava lists the fast-changing maritime technologies and work practices as the main challenges in port work.
“Modern equipment and better vehicles are important, but one of the union’s prime commitments is to invest more in workers’ training, especially if we can give port workers the opportunity to train on new technology.
When you are a port worker, you never forget your roots
“Therefore, we are currently carrying out works within our offices, where we will be soon inaugurating our new training centre for port workers. This will be an in-house, dedicated training centre for our current port workers, the young, aspiring ones in particular, where they can learn more about safe equipment handling and experience the advantages of new technologies through simulators.
“Training will remain high on the agenda. Besides for our 380 licensed port workers, the Malta Dockers Union is also responsible for another 235 self-employed truck drivers. These too will be benefitting from our training programmes.
In fact, as from this year, we are hosting courses recognised by Transport Malta for terminal operators and prospective port workers. These consist of an induction course, 40 hours practice and a final exam which leads to official certification.”
One of the union’s recent achievements was when a group of truck drivers received training that allowed them for the first time to work on ro-ro vessel operations. Currently, the union is collaborating with several oil and gas companies to organise training for those workers who are mostly involved in the handling and transport of oil and gas cargo.
“But the reality is that port workers today handle any type of cargo, from raw materials and conventional cargo, which constitute the daily bread and butter commodities, to huge capital projects. Such projects handled by Malta’s port workers include the Kappara project, power station, pipeline interconnector and oil drilling operations. A good portion of our workers are also deployed at the Malta Freeport.”
The MDU holds service level agreements with Valletta Gateway Terminals in Marsa and with the Malta Freeport Terminals, which agreements regulate and harmonise the work done by their respective workers.
The manner of how port workers are organised is evident from the management of the Port Workers Pension and Contingency Fund, which is managed by a board, set up directly by Cabinet in 1973, when the country started introducing the cost of living adjustment.
“Back then, port workers had no access to this system nor to the quarterly government bonus. This was when port workers decided to establish this fund to be able to cater specifically for port workers. In time, the fund started providing insurance in case of injury and medical cover. Today it also finances the purchase of safety gear and protective garments.
Port workers register every year in order to be recognised as part of the fund, which also supports them in case of sick leave and injury on duty.”
Today, the MDU is also affiliated with the International Dockworkers Council (IDC), where members share expertise on ongoing developments in the industry and assist each other on special projects.
“When you are a port worker, you never forget your roots. You think of the hardships of your father, and his father before him. And you want to live up to them. As a union, we have come a long way and achieved a lot. But the port worker’s biggest achievement happens every day when he goes back home to his family, having faced another day of tough work and huge risks.”
The opinion expressed in the interview does not necessarily reflect the position of the Malta Maritime Forum. www.mmf.org.mt
When you become a dock worker you take on a sense of pride and a family like community. When two tier wages are intrioduced in some ports it creates divivision & hatred amongst the workforce. That equates to low productivity and very low morale amongst all concerned.
A quote from a 40 + years seasond docker.....They are now paying the penalty for employing cheap labour all those years ago. No one to replace all the ones retiring.