Almost ten years have passed since the last sectoral agreement for architects and engineers in the Public Service has been signed, according to the Union Periti u Inġiniera tas-Setter Pubbliku (UPISP). Dayna Camilleri Clarke spoke to the Union’s President, Perit Matthew Degiorgio, and Secretary Inġ. David Spiteri regarding the current bleak scenario.
Architects and engineers in the Public Service perform pivotal roles connected with works on public infrastructure (such as parks, playgrounds, buildings and streets), the restoration of heritage buildings, and EU-funded projects. They bear the responsibility of ensuring that things are done correctly according to the latest standards and regulations.
“The negations for an overhaul of the outdated agreement have been ongoing for the last two years, but our various proposals have fallen on deaf ears” explained Spiteri. “We have seen other sectors get substantial increases, while we endured stagnation.”
The current sectoral agreement for architects and engineers in the Public Service, which lays down conditions affecting a substantial part of their remuneration, was signed in 2012. “Back then, it provided these employees with a decent quality of life. Nine years later, it can only be considered adequate if one adopts the view that employees who depend on their salary should not aspire to much more than basic necessities, regardless of how much time and effort they have invested in their education.”
“Similar professionals employed with certain government entites receive a salary that is about 50% higher,” added Degiorgio. “With every day this matter remains unsettled, architects and engineers in the Public Service get more and more alienated. This means that kicking the can down the road comes with a very high price tag, as productivity will be lost, and recovering from a slump in morale takes time. We should be incubating innovation, not hampering growth.”
“When you believe in people, you do everything possible to create an environment where they can flourish and be the most productive. You certainly do not sweep such an issue under the carpet.” Lost productivity is just one part of this multi-faced issue. It leads to numerous human resources problems, such as difficulties in recruiting and retaining competent professionals.
“Could it be that the government has lost faith in the Public Service, and adopted the view that it needs to be gradually trasformed into public agencies and authorities?” asked Spiteri. “In reality, such entities can have problems of their own. One of them involves potential conflicts of interest of board members, particularly when they have significant business interests. In the case of public officers, apart from onerous revolving door provisions, permission to perform private work needs to be obtained, and is subject to several conditions. Furthermore, public officers are obliged to avoid certain investments, and to notify their Permanent Secreatary of certain others. Another matter of potential concern involves the recruitment processes of such entities, which tend to be less regulated than in the Public Service. The Public Administration Act contains provisions to establish a Merit Protection Commission for these entities, but for some reason they are not yet in force.”
Degiorgio concluded, “The administration needs to pull all the stops so that the sectoral agreement can be updated without further delay. Architects and engineers in the Public Service need to put this issue behind them and focus on priorities such as meeting EU targets for energy efficiency, and creating a more pleasant environment. We need to use our energy in productive ways, not waste it on prolonged disputes.”