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Gozo Channel crew in court over ‘abusive’ and ‘discriminatory’ practices

Gozo Channel Ferry crossing over from Gozo to Malta

A direct order awarded by Gozo Channel to a security company for the provision of cabin crew has resulted in alleged abusive and discriminatory practices where employees are paid less for doing the same job as other members of staff, according to a court case filed last month.

It refers to a service agreement between Gozo Channel and Executive Security Services Ltd (ESS) where the private company provides cabin crew members to the ferry service.

This has resulted in a situation that is “blatantly illegal” and abusive of workers’ rights, according to Union Haddiema Maghqudin (UHM) which filed the court case on behalf of its members after efforts since last summer to resolve the situation with the companies involved failed.

Gozo Channel is, among other things, pointing its fingers at ESS and arguing that the UHM members are employed by ESS and Gozo Channel only has a contractual relationship with ESS. The court case held its first sitting on Friday morning during which the Court noted that ESS had, although duly notified, neither filed a note of defence nor turned up for the sitting.

ESS is owned by Stephen Ciangura, with his mother Therese Ciangura as director. An AFM Lance Bombardier, Ciangura was seconded to the Malta Council for Science and Technology as a personal chauffeur to MCST chairman Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando.

Ciangura was in the news in 2016 linked to the PlusOne stampede in Paceville. The AFM had told The Malta Independent that he did not have approval to carry out private work at the time, as required by law.

The agreement between his company and Gozo Channel was revealed as a result of a parliamentary question last October, when it emerged ESS was given a direct order for a three-month services contract with the Gozo ferry company.

Gozo Minister Justyne Caruana had said ESS was to receive €41,666.65 (excluding VAT) per month for providing 20 sailors aboard the vessels.

Last summer, members of the crew employed by ESS as crew on the Gozo ferries realised they were earning significantly less than their counterparts (employed by Gozo Channel) doing the same work.

Attempts to have this addressed by their employers failed. Gozo Channel “washed its hands of the problem” saying they were not the company’s employees, and ESS “just ignored the problem as though it was above the law,” the UHM’s court application states.

“Faced with this blatantly illegal situation and an attitude of omnipotence,” the Union said it issued directives to be followed by its members. This occurred after a complaint filed with the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations last August led to no solution, the judicial protest states.

The industrial action only resulted in further discrimination against the workers, until those complaining were put on forced leave and eventually left out of the roster entirely, the Union said.

Action taken by the Union in court last November resulted in an injunction against the two companies. While Gozo Channel turned up for proceedings in court, Ciangura’s company again failed to be present.

“The company did not even bother to reply, let alone turn up for proceedings,” according to the court application. ESS failed to reply or turn up yet again.

In its demands, the Union is requesting that the injunction is upheld and that money owed to workers is paid.

Mario Portelli

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