Malta: Latest working life developments – Q3 2017

Compensating workers for weekend public holidays, the effect of legalising marijuana in the workplace, and a proposal that the first day of sick leave should be unpaid are the main topics of interest in this article. This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Malta in the third quarter of 2017.

Compensating workers for weekend public holidays

The government’s intention to compensate workers for public holidays falling on a weekend has gravely concerned employers. Historically, employees were no longer entitled to additional leave to make up for such public holidays following a 2005 amendment to the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act (Chapter 252 of the Laws of Malta).

The Labour Party (PL) in its manifesto for the election, held in June 2017, stated that workers would once more be entitled to these additional days of leave, which was welcomed by the trade unions.

However, employers raised fears about the increased operating costs this measure would create, which they estimate to be around 2% of their total wage bill. Generally, there are four public holidays falling on weekends per year. The employers are proposing that any decision to add such holidays to optional leave should be balanced out with compensatory measures, to be discussed with employer bodies prior to implementation.

The Minister for Equality and EU Affairs, Dr Helena Dalli, said she was considering many options, such as the introduction of bank holidays. Giving monetary compensation, as suggested by one union would, according to the Minister, go against the spirit and rationale of this measure.

Employer concerns about legalising marijuana for the workplace

Employers also criticised the government’s intention to legalise marijuana. The Malta Employers Association (MEA) said such a move should include its prohibition at the workplace. The MEA argues that, since smoking marijuana may have negative effects on productivity and may also lead to an increase in sick leave, the law should give employers the right to conduct drug tests on employees. Moreover, it says, employees using marijuana should be obliged to inform their employer of this.

Health and safety consultant, Anthony Bezzina, who supports the stance of MEA, maintains that the consumption of marijuana may increase the risk of workplace-related incidents. The MEA insists that smoking marijuana at the workplace should be a just cause for dismissal. The trade unions did not express any opinion about this issue.

Debate over no pay for first day of sick leave 

The MEA proposal to make the first day of sick leave unpaid drew heavy criticism from the trade unions. The proposal was made during the pre-budget consultation process between the Minister of Finance, Edward Scicluna, and the social partners, with MEA Director-General, Joe Farrugia, saying the move would minimise the abuse of sick leave. MEA believes that employees, aided by doctors who issue sickness certificates to employees who are not genuinely ill, are abusing their legal entitlement to sick leave. The trade unions stated that such a measure would be a retrograde step. The Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, stated that the government has no intention of implementing this proposed measure.

Commentary

The Maltese trade unions did not express any views about the issue of the use of marijuana at the workplace, perhaps because they found some cogency in the argument of MEA. They were, however, very favourable to the additional vacation leave, while strongly condemning the MEA proposal about the first day of sick leave. These two highly contentious issues tend to touch a raw nerve with their members.

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