Letter to the Sunday Times Editor

The Editor, Sunday Times

In his Article ’The bug that never stung’ of the 27th December 2009, Prof Robert Ghirlando, former Chairman of Enemalta Corporation, gave an overview of the Corporation’s efforts in ensuing that there would be no power cuts as a consequence of the infamous Y2K bug, at midnight of the 31st December 1999.

Prof Ghirlando laments that while he had spent that night on the Corporation premises, as had the Corporation’s Engineering Managers, not so the engineers, whose union, he insisted, had made ridiculous demands to accept to join them. In his comments, Prof Ghirlando does not do any justice to either the operation engineers that where on duty on the millennium eve, or to all the other power station shift workers who year after year miss the festive seasons to provide the nation a service, while others are enjoying the Christmas spirit. Prof Ghirlando has also failed to remember that as August 1999 approached, the Corporation’s non- shift professionals had asked their union, the EPOU, to inquire if they would be required to be on duty during that ‘new millennium’ night, since if not, they, of course, preferred to spend it with the rest of the world, celebrating the ushering in of the new millennium.

 The EPOU made this request to Management, but it appeared that at that time the Corporation did not appear to have made any emergency or contingency plans, and no reply was forthcoming. The Union thus informed its members of this, and individual members made plans to spend this night with their members. As the weeks rolled by, and the millennium night approached, engineers, on an individual basis, began to query the Corporation’s position and wrote to the Chairman, as they could not really believe that the Corporation was not making any contingency plans.

The Corporation’s reply to these engineers was – yes, we are formulating plans, but ask your Manager if you would be needed. By then it was September (1999). The Union, being proactive once again, put this question in writing, on behalf of its members, to all the Corporation’s Managers. Apart from a couple of verbal replies confirming that they would not be needed, no Manager wrote to say that he required his engineers to be on duty.

The Union informed the Management of this. At this, all of a sudden, the Corporation’s position changed to one diametrically opposite. The position became one of ‘everyone must keep himself available’. The situation became even more confusing when the Office of the PM issued instructions (MPO 157/1999) that no ‘special bonus’ was to be paid to persons working during that night. Thus non-overtime engineers were expected to be on duty without compensation, while those engineers who could claim overtime, were expected to cancel their plans (made after the Corporation had indicated it had no special plans) and to spend the night at work , being only paid overtime at a rate much less than their present grade. Moreover, engineers who had to be assigned work at distribution centres had to spend the night in a limited space, with no sanitation facilities.

When the OPM later changed its position (Circular 46/99) , and offered ‘an extra Lm 25 in addition to the normal remuneration’ the Union agreed with a draft Memo the Chairman was to send individually to the Corporation’s engineers’ , asking engineers to ‘volunteer to spend the night’ at the Corporation. This was on the 28th December 1999. From Prof Ghirlando’s recent letter to the Sunday Times, it appears that there were no volunteers; however it is unfair to put the blame on this on the Engineer’s Union, who had made all efforts to find an amicable solution, although it had long believed that there was no cause for concern, as subsequently resulted.

Yours truly

Ismail D’Amato President

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