UHM Voice of the Workers Secretary General Josef Vella has taken exception to The Shift’s recent report on his appointment as a director of the government-owned Malta Air Travel Company Ltd, the parent company of the one-aircraft airline Malta MedAir.
The leader of Malta’s second largest trade union has taken The Shift to court after it refused to publish a ‘right of reply’ he sent in expressing his opinion on the article’s contents and in which he confirmed the appointment.
In an article published last April titled ‘Union leader appointed director of government company sees no conflict of interest’, The Shift revealed how in February 2022, just a few weeks before the last general elections, the UHM chief had been handpicked by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana to represent the government on the board of directors of Malta Air Travel.
Vella has filed a case in court over The Shift’s refusal to print an essay he presented as a ‘right of reply’ in its entirety when his comments had already been reported in the article.
In its reply, The Shift told the court presided over by Magistrate Rachel Montebello that Vella’s request to the court should be turned down on the grounds that Vella’s letter to The Shift following the publication of the article did not fall within the parameters of the country’s media laws and did not qualify as a ‘right of reply’.
The Shift reported how Vella confirmed he was selected as a member of a government company’s board by Minister Caruana and that his appointment was in a personal capacity.
Vella insisted that he had “no serious conflict of interest in his roles” between being the head of Malta’s second-largest trade union tasked with defending workers’ rights and personally working for the government. Vella insisted the report was “misleading” and “false”.
He said, “all trade union officials who are employed with the public service or a public entity can qualify to join a trade union on grounds of public policy.”
In its reply to the court, The Shift pointed out that this was not part of the report as it only focused on his selection “on a personal basis” to represent the government against remuneration on a government board – a fact he confirmed in his reply.
The article also stated that Vella joined another trade union leader in being paid by the government and pointed out how GWU President Victor Carachi has received thousands of euros in retainers for his various roles at government companies and agencies.
Vella insisted that “he neither joined Victor Carachi with the entity nor is he receiving tens of thousands in return”.
The Shift’s report did not state that Vella was earning as much as Carachi, but, rather, the fact that the leaders of both of Malta’s largest trade unions are also government-appointed directors of state-owned companies. Vella said he donated his earnings to the union.
Vella has now taken the issue to court. The Shift has informed the court it stands by the facts presented in the article.
Lawyers Andrew Borg Cardona, Matthew Cutajar and Eve Borg Costanzi from BCGL Advocates are defending The Shift in court pro bono.