The General Workers Union (GWU), the traditional political partner of the Labour Party, has hit a snag in its plan to win a new seven-year multi-million euro contract. A rival bidder has managed to submit a cheaper offer for the management of the Community Workers Scheme – a public-funded scheme for the jobless.
At the end of the tendering process earlier this month, two consortia – CW Scheme Consortium and CWS Consort – submitted their bid for the lucrative government tender.
The first consortium – CW Scheme – submitted a bid for €108.7 million, or half a million euros cheaper than the incumbent bidder – CWS Consort – which tendered at €109.2 million.
The GWU is the current manager of the scheme, through a five-year tender, which generates hefty profits for the trade union. The Union has already been given a direct order of €534,000 to manage the Community Workers Scheme for the next six months, despite criticism about mismanagement of the scheme by the National Audit Office (NAO).
While Secretary-General Josef Bugeja didn’t reply to questions on whether the GWU bid for the tender, The Shift can reveal that the Union is behind CWS Consort, which has District Operations Ltd as its lead partner, with the Community Workers Scheme Enterprise Foundation as a member. Both organisations have the GWU as their majority shareholder.
Yet it did not submit the cheapest offer, which is one of the key criteria on which a decision is taken on the winning bid.
The GWU’s competitor, CW Scheme Consortium, which submitted a cheaper offer, is led by EMCS, with AX Group and Konnekt Search and Selection as partners.
Although the Department of Contracts would usually award a tender to the cheapest bidder, this is not a foregone conclusion. A number of other elements may come into play during the evaluation exercise. These include compliance and technical criteria, which can easily steer the award to the more expensive option, the GWU in this case.
The technical criteria and restrictive clauses inserted in the tender document already favour the GWU. Unlike the first tender in 2015, this time Jobsplus stipulated that potential bidders should have a “minimum of 800 employees engaged on a full time basis particularly non-professional and unskilled” to qualify to compete in the tender.
This clearly restricted the number of potential tenderers, giving the GWU a clear advantage, having already operated the scheme for five years.
Jobs for votes
Publicised as a form of training scheme, the Community Workers Scheme has been transformed into a government employment agency, enabling it to say it has reduced the list of unemployed by engaging them in the scheme.
While the government originally said the arrangement was temporary and would be phased out as employment is found for those enrolled, the opposite has happened.
From 600 participants in 2015, the scheme now has more than 1,100 workers on its books, with more added every month in a pattern that’s accelerating as the general elections loom closer.
Participants are put on the state’s payroll and assigned small, normally maintenance-related jobs at government schools, local councils and NGOs.
These employees, paid by the government, are then struck off the employment register and considered to be working for the private sector because they’re managed by a private entity – currently the GWU company.
On its part, the scheme’s manager (GWU) is responsible for the management of these workers, including payroll, and takes a cut from the fees charged per worker, giving the GWU and its officials increasing profit.
The scheme has been very popular with unskilled workers, particularly in Gozo, where hundreds have been recruited over the past five years.
Surveillance of these workers is allegedly low, leading to suggestions that some participants take on extra private work while officially on their CWS assigned duties.