A Maltese truck driver and machinery operator, Joseph Spiteri, has told The Shift that his former employer Tlata Ltd fired him less than a month after he was injured in the workplace last May and is demanding that Spiteri pay for the equipment damaged in the incident.
Spiteri, 59, suffered from multiple fractures in his wrist as well as bruising and swelling on his shoulders and thighs after a truck he was operating in Tlata Ltd’s quarry in Dingli tipped onto its side during a routine offloading of waste inside the quarry.
“I don’t know exactly how it happened, I think something got stuck, or the ground gave way, but the truck tipped over. I almost died but thank God I only injured my hand and it was operated on. They put a steel rod inside my wrist,” Spiteri said.
“When I got injured, the owner tried to tell me that it wasn’t that bad an injury. He owed me at least a thousand euros in pay because he pays out in cash,” Spiteri added, referring to the owner and operator of the business, Paul Falzon. Since the accident, Spiteri has also sent a legal letter through his lawyer to recoup the money owed in arrears.
After the accident, Spiteri’s fellow employees took him to a clinic in Rabat and left him there. His partner, Sue Mangion, was told to collect Spiteri from the clinic, taking him first to the policlinic in Mosta and then to Mater Dei hospital. Police had not been called on site and no inspectors from the Occupational Health and Safety Authority had shown up to verify how the incident had occurred, they said.
“They took him from the quarry directly to the clinic, they didn’t call an ambulance, the police or anyone, except for me. I went to pick him up myself from Mosta’s polyclinic, where we were told to go directly to Mater Dei because his injury was too serious to be treated there,” Mangion said.
“We went to Mater Dei and we were told he’d need an operation as it was broken in too many places. When he came out of hospital three days after that, we received a message from his employer, who owed him payment arrears, telling him that he’s firing him and that he was put on his notice period,” she added.
Mangion explained how Spiteri, who’s been working in the sector all his life, has not been able to do any work since then due to the fact that all of the jobs he has done involve the use of his hands.
“I had to stop working for at least four months because of all of this. We were constantly running around from hospital to therapy, to specialists, and so on. Our life was turned upside down, and none of the authorities bothered to even help us in the meantime,” she said.
Falzon, acting through two of his companies registered on the same address, Tlata Ltd and Cash & Debt Collecting Ltd, sent two legal letters to Spiteri shortly after he’d gotten out of hospital and began asking to collect his arrears on 3 June.
“The employer is holding you responsible for all damages suffered and you are to make arrangements within a week’s time for the liquidation and eventual payment of this vehicle and the rent of another vehicle,” according to the letter sent to Spiteri, seen by The Shift. Falzon repeatedly insisted that the injured employee should pay for the damages to the truck.
“Like a chameleon, he just changed overnight. I didn’t have any problems with him before this. I was on minimum wage, how am I supposed to pay for the damages on the truck?” Spiteri asked, explaining that prior to the incident he had not had any issues with his employer and that he had filed a police report himself since the employer had failed to do so.
So far, Mangion and Spiteri estimate that they’ve spent at least €1,500 on medical and legal fees since the accident occurred.
On 9 June, Falzon himself sent a letter dismissing Spiteri from his job, explicitly outlining how he was expecting immediate payment for the vehicle despite such costs usually being borne by insurance companies.
When The Shift sent questions to Falzon, he sent a one word response: “Carelessness”.
When asked to elaborate, Falzon claimed that Spiteri has done the same thing at five other companies for which he worked. He provided no evidence to back this claim. While Falzon repeatedly insisted that Spiteri was “careless”, he failed to explain how the accident was the employee’s fault or provide the names of the other companies to which he was referring.
Falzon also told Jobsplus that the official reason for Spiteri’s dismissal was that he had failed to adhere to rules stipulated in his contract, while Spiteri says that a contract never even existed in the first place.
When asked about what they feel needs to change to ensure safer employment conditions, both Spiteri and his partner spoke of the need for safety and for real enforcement against illegalities committed by employers.
Referring to the recently reported incident involving Lamin Jaiteh, a Gambian man who was injured on a construction site and dumped on the side of road, Mangion said: “What happened to that foreigner who was injured at the workplace is just not right”.
“We wanted to talk to the media because we need to point out that foreigners aren’t the only ones experiencing this, Maltese people are treated like this as well,” she added.
“People need to know about this. All of the workers are used and thrown away like this, it really doesn’t matter to them if you’re Maltese or if you’re a foreigner.”