an interview with Ryan Fava; President, Malta Dockers Union
Engineering is my passion but I consider port work to be a unique privilege. It is a profession to which I believe I can make positive contributions. My colleagues identified this drive in me and nominated me to be Shop Steward, in 2014,” he said, adding that he was previously selected as Health and Safety Representative for port workers between 2011 to mid 2014, when he was first elected MDU President. “At that stage, we wanted to put our house in order and focused our work
on our licensed port workers,” Ryan explained. This meant that port workers who were not licensed had to be told to leave.“During this time, the Union’s statute was amended in order to make it a house union. Once the Union amends its statute again, we will be open to inviting other clusters to join up as union members,” he said. Ryan reckons that his Education as an Engineer helps him on a daily basis as MDU President, as he scrutinises all matters with a technical eye to detail, delving into the foundation of all matters, and administering the Union’s objectives studiously, precisely and efficiently.
Ryan’s second term as Union President started in 2017, when he won a two-man race with a large majority which wanted him back at the top job, based on his impressive track record. During his current tenure as MDU President Ryan focused on diversifying and restructuring the Union’s operations, which included a more professional approach to port work and the raising of operational standards. Ryan explained that the Malta Dockers Union was established in 2006 by the late Joseph Saliba and his committee.
The Malta Dockers’ Union was set up to act as a solid voice for the licensed port workers it represents, which also enables it to push for reforms that make port workers’ jobs better, more efficient and safer. Port workers provide an important service for Malta’s ports as they are responsible for the handling of all goods and material from the vessel to shore and vice versa. Before becoming Prime Minister, Robert Abela was the legal advisor to the Malta Dockers’ Union and interestingly, his own family also includes port workers in its history.
Ryan explained that nowadays port workers handle all types of cargo, from raw materials and conventional cargo to huge capital projects (such as the Kappara project, the power station and the pipeline interconnector) as well as oil drilling operations. “I consider my role to be that of safeguarding the continuity of the great work done by my predecessors,” he explained, adding that port workers are regulated by Article 171 of the Port Ordinance Act enacted on the 1st March 1950. “The Act establishes that there can only be 380 registered port workers, at any given time,” he said.
The Union was
set up to act
as a solid voice
for the licensed
enables it to
push for reforms
that make port
Ryan explained that port work is a very laborious job in a high-risk environment, which makes workers exposed to the elements, year-round, without any paid leave. “This is a very strenuous job requiring commitment, hard work and attention to detail,” he said. “The public image of port workers has been one of an unruly lot. However, port workers are extremely organised – we have come a long way. We also have a number of port workers who are University graduates,” he said. “Our Union is not one which considers strikes to be anything but a last resort. We are not a militant organisation and
are able to take a wider perspective, in the interest of the industry, as a whole. We regularly talk with our stakeholders, in an open round-table discussion, in the interest of our workers. We are solution- focused and enjoy good industrial relations based on communications and sustainability,” Ryan stressed. The Union is also involved on an operational level with Transport Malta, with regards to how the Union’s office is run. The Union also leases out its own office from Transport Malta, which Ryan considers to be an important development, as employees report to work on a daily basis at the Union’s offices.
I consider my
role to be that
the continuity of
the great work
done by my
photo: MDU President Ryan Fava leading the MDU representatives in a meeting with Prime Minister Robert Abela at the OPM: June 2020
The MDU holds service level agree- ments with Valletta Gateway Ter- minals in Marsa and Malta Freeport Terminals, to regulate and harmonise the work done by their respective workers. Malta Freeport Terminals and the Malta Dockers Union have recently signed an 11-year agreement that will provide stability for licensed port workers as well as for the com- pany that runs the international trans- shipment hub in Birzebbuga. The agreement creates the right condi- tions for licensed workers and greater
efficiency for the Freeport. “We also managed to negotiate very good terms with competitive tariffs, which will enable us to further attract maritime cargo and container business. This will increase work for the terminals, port workers, auxiliary workers as well as for the Maltese economy, Ryan said. The MDU also organises courses recognized by Transport Malta for terminal operators and prospective port workers. These consist of induction courses, a 40-hour hands-on practice module
and a final exam which leads to official certification. New Port workers are also required to undertake training for the proper use of machinery, while veteran workers are kept abreast of changes to machinery and updated work practices. “The Union also organises tug training for part-timers and self-employed workers which provide services at Malta Freeport Terminals. The training is carried out by the MDU, in collaboration with Malta Freeport Terminals and is officially recognised by Transport Malta,” Ryan added.
This is a very
hard work and
Terminals and the
Union have recently
signed an 11-year
agreement … The
the right conditions
for licensed workers
efficiency for the
From the very start of his Presidency in 2014, Ryan instilled into the Union’s Health & Safety directives his own personal experiences as the Union’s past Health and Safety Representative; the Union has its own Health & Safety representative who regularly visits all sites, so as to be able to properly represent the terminal operators and workers accordingly. During these site visits, anything from the proper usage and maintenance of lashing cages to safety harnesses is checked. Any practices which are found to be non-compliant with the MDU’s expectations, are flagged by the H&S representative to the Union, so that it can take the necessary reparative action. “The MDU is affiliated with the European Dockers’ Council as well as with the International Dockworkers Council
(IDC),” Ryan said, adding that this gives the Union more weight and access to the latest developments in the sector. In terms of the Union’s future direction, Ryan explained that plans include further investment in workers’ training, particularly with regards to new technology. Ryan is also keen to improve the Union’s operations and office procedures, to enhance visibility and transparency, particularly with key stakeholders, such as Transport Malta and Malta Freeport Terminals Ltd. “We also want to seek out and secure additional opportunities for the port workers to gain more work which goes beyond the remit of Malta’s legislation, to protect the health and safety of the worker; the livelihood of the worker; the licence of the worker,” Ryan said.