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Two leading organisations representing business interests in Malta have expressed their condolences to the passing of Tony Zarb, who led Malta’s largest union, the General Workers Union, between 1998 and 2015.

Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) president Tony Zahra saluted the memory of Mr Zarb, who died aged 68 on Sunday 29th May, describing him as a “pioneer of trade unionism who devoted his whole life and all its energy to the fight for a better world for the working class, in Malta and internationally”.

Mr Zahra continued: “Completely free of ego, Tony Zarb will be remembered as a fighter and a man of character representing the progressive and internationalist working-class left. There is no doubt that industrial relations will sorely miss his enthusiasm and wit.”

The Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) meanwhile stated that Mr Zarb was a devoted trade unionist who played a key role in industrial relations for decades.

“Although steadfast in his beliefs and a tough negotiator, he always understood the importance of promoting and protecting workers’ interests whilst being open to social dialogue with the business community.”

Both the MEA and the MHRA expressed their condolences to the family and friends of Mr Zarb.

Mr Zarb was awarded Ġieħ ir-Repubblika in 2015, capping a long career in trade unionism that started when he worked as a cutting operator at the Blue Bell Jeans factory in the 1980s.

He rose through the ranks of the General Workers Union, leading the port and transport section before being elected secretary-general in 1998.

His most famous campaigns included those against tax rises, the privatisation of the Malta Shipyard, European Union membership, and the exploitation of workers through precarious contracts, while many businesses became familiar with his uncompromising style through collective agreement negotiations.

Mr Zarb’s uncritical support of Joseph Muscat’s administration despite the corruption scandals that engulfed it and his branding of those expressing their concerns abroad as “traitors” during his semi-retirement (he continued to head the GWU’s pensioners section) capped a long life of public intervention that won him as many enemies as it did friends, ensuring that his legacy will be a contested one.

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