Nostalgia as they say, is a seductive liar. Not only does it imbue the past with a deceptive rose-tinted glow, but also throws any sort of objectivity into a tailspin. Evidently, this has well been the case for our shipyards for the best part of the past ten years, ever since Palumbo’s takeover bid in 2010. Despite the fact that both statistics and results bear witness to the success of this endeavour, there still seems to be resistance to this change from some quarters. These individuals still somehow hanker for ‘the good ole’ days’ of the Drydocks.
These ‘organisations’ which purport to have the residents’ interest at heart, conveniently forget all the positive aspects since Palumbo’s takeover ten years ago, for example, the reversal of fortune of the shipyards themselves, which historically were incurring huge losses and the great burden to the Maltese taxpayer this scenario represented.
It perhaps also suits the agenda of these few naysayers who have also conveniently overlooked the millions Palumbo has invested in the shipyards, which also spurred other operators in the field to invest heavily in the supply of services, re-establishing a chain within related industries which had long been dormant. Palumbo Group’s strong Corporate Social Responsibility policy rarely if ever gets a mention, but a long list of national and local organisations can easily attest to this. Again, this policy is also ignored by these ‘organisations’. All of this without going into the obvious merits of the millions the company pumps into our national coffers through the payment of taxes.
In a previous article, we have taken to task a letter sent to the Prime Minister and various members of Parliament, by resident associations claiming to represent the Cottonera region and other NGOs, a letter which lists a number of what these groups claim as ‘grave issues’ that need to be addressed prior to Palumbo’s merger with MSC Cruises.
One of these issues outlines the letter senders’ grievance with Palumbo’s ‘Lack of investment in human capital’, requesting the engagement of Maltese workers as apprentices at the dockyard. ‘it-Tarzna’, they rightly claim, has traditionally been a university of skills for the people of Cottonera and Kalkara affording them a decent living and a way to become professionally skilled. Ahh, but for the good ole’ days! That was the golden age of ‘It-Tarzna’, which in a modern-day scenario and despite all good intentions, can never be replicated.
Again, this shooting from the hip by these organisations reeks of either misinformation or else something more sinister. It has to be noted that Palumbo has over the years strived to attract new and young talent to the shipyards, committing to engage Maltese apprentices. It has consistently participated in MCAST events as well as regularly participating with stands at the EXPOs organised by the same MCAST, offering information and practical guidelines to students interested in its operations with a view to prospective career opportunities in this sector. Palumbo’s Superyacht Facility has served as the venue for MCAST’s ProCrew – Training the Trainers initiative on many an occasion. Students from both MCAST as well as the faculty of engineering within the University of Malta are regularly hosted by Palumbo and provided with tours of the yard in a bid to raise interest in the shipyards.
Pre-COVID the need for human resources within the industry was great. Unfortunately, and this is a fact the complainants opportunely choose to ignore, very few young people choose to commit to this career pathway, as obviously other sectors are deemed more attractive, especially in terms of lack of physical hardship. However much we may all long for the past, we have to be realistic and grasp the notion, however unpalatable that might be, that a young man/woman today does not share the same ambitions and or objectives as a young man/woman of thirty or forty years ago.
It also has to be said that prior to the Covid pandemic, the country has suffered a huge shortage of Maltese workers in most sectors, resulting in a mass importation of human capital for hospitality, catering, financial services, shipping, aviation and construction industries, to name just a few. Why the complainants have taken such an issue in particular with Palumbo regarding this reality, which is almost standard across the board, raises a number of questions. What is the company expected to do when skilled workers cannot be sourced locally? Close its doors? And if this happens, what exactly have these organisations got to gain?
As for the ‘engagement of Maltese workers’, with the complainants’ particular emphasis on ‘Maltese’, one would think (or at least hope) that by now it is common knowledge that EU regulation with regard to free movement of people, a distinction between Maltese and EU citizens cannot be made, and therefore the insinuation, however subtle, that Maltese workers are being left by the wayside, does not hold ground in any way. As for third country nationals, only a handful of these workers are actually employed at Palumbo Shipyards. However, it must also be said that Palumbo cannot control the recruitment policies or processes of its suppliers and will not and cannot, for example, dictate to their security systems sub-contractor which nationality they should be employing. Any such request would not only border on the ludicrous, besides being highly unethical, but heaven forbid the day when companies start dictating to each other in this sense.
With all this in mind, it would actually be more beneficial for all, if nostalgia is delegated to its rightful place, history. It would also be sensible if certain organisations, prior to trying to summon the past, in a bid to tug at the residents’ heartstrings, check their facts regarding the ‘concerns’ and ‘grave issues’ which they so like to resurrect from time to time. If, as they purport, their goal is to safeguard the Cottonera residents’ best interest, then they should start by stating the facts as they stand and not use the residents’ sentimentality for ‘it-Tarzna’ as a weapon to undermine Palumbo Shipyards.