Many a fresh graduate and young worker in the Maltese economy might
see in the fast-paced realm of highly-skilled, high-reward professions, the allure of a promising career.
Yet, even this world is often overshadowed by the potential pitfalls that lie beneath the surface: for many young professionals, this journey can be fraught with unfair working conditions and exploitation by employers.
And it is here that the often-overlooked guardian, the trade union, can offer a shield against the unscrupulous practices that tarnish working lives.
A substantial income or a fulfilling career in certain jobs might
overshadow the harsh realities that lurk in the shadows. But in a world where income inequality is on the rise, trade unions still play a pivotal role in shaping policies to address these disparities.
In this shifting landscape of labour dynamics, trade unions have a contemporary resonance. They have shed their old skins to actively engage in securing ongoing education and skills development, recognising the relentless pace of technological advancement.
It’s a focus that extends beyond the workplace, addressing social justice issues and advocating for a fair and inclusive society. But it is their collective force, leveraging power to influence political decisions and striving for a more equitable distribution of wealth and opportunities, that reveals their strength.
Yet, there remains a stark reality: those at the lower rungs, including young professionals, are vulnerable to abuse by employers exploiting legal loopholes.
For those enjoying apparent high incomes, the threat of abuse often goes unnoticed when it appears in the form of unsafe working conditions, of disregard for occupational health, or mental safety and anti-discrimination at the place of work.
In other cases, unscrupulous employers take advantage of minimal wage regulations, by creating an uneven playing field for other ethical businesses. This extends beyond income brackets, and can affect particularly those from minority backgrounds, who face unique forms of abuse.
The scale of abuse is immense, and relying solely on national enforcement agencies is not always efficient. Malta’s current national regulatory framework struggles to cover all workplaces, leaving many young workers without a safety net.
The call for mandatory trade union membership emerges as a pragmatic solution, a form of self-policing that empowers individuals and collectively addresses workplace injustices.
Joining a trade union can become a proactive step for young workers and professionals. It’s a channel for negotiation, securing better pay, improved working conditions, and access to training for continuous skill development.
At work, unions become advocates, ensuring fair treatment and offering advice and support on issues ranging from employment contracts, to harassment, from work-life balance to discriminatory treatment.
Collective bargaining is a game-changer: when a union bargains collectively, it compels management to address issues that an individual might struggle to raise.
The more employees that demand their rights collectively, the greater the likelihood of enforcement, fostering a culture of fair treatment within the workplace.
Unsurprisingly, even employers can find benefits in a unionised workforce. Bosses get structured communication and conflict resolution, and in turn this leads to employee satisfaction and better engagement, because unions can achieve a positive and collaborative work environment.
And employers understand that transparent and predictable working conditions, workplace safety, and skills development are additional perks that align with their interest in maintaining a competitive and ethical business. It gives their business a brand.
The COVID pandemic’s harsh spotlight on disparate worker treatment has only shown us even more clearly why the General Workers’ Union’s proposal for mandatory trade union membership must gain momentum.
It’s a call for every worker to have a shield, an opportunity to be part of a trade union of their choice, and a chance to collectively eradicate workplace abuse.
Opponents might argue that mandatory membership breaches freedom of association. However, our main contention is the thousands of employees are right now being denied their right of association, and the need for a robust response to workplace abuse.
In advocating for mandatory membership, the GWU hopes to expedite the consultation process. It’s not just about protecting the rights of workers; it’s about creating a work environment that is fair, just, and respectful for workers and young professionals stepping into new challenging jobs where unionisation never tends to be considered.
For every young professional aspiring to navigate the often ‘lonely’ world of high-skill professions, the union’s shield can be an armour against the unseen abuse in such occupations. Mandatory trade union membership is a guarantee of empowerment, a collective voice that transcends income brackets and professions.
Josef Bugeja is secretary-general of the General Workers’ Union
Do you agree with mandatory trade union membership?