Implementation of the Racial Equality Directive

Research commissioned by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) on how well the Racial Equality Directive is applied in practice in the area of employment found that the major Maltese trade unions and employer organisations are not fully aware of its implications. The FRA report includes ideas on how to increase awareness of racial equality in employment in Malta.

The Racial Equality Directive 2000/43/EC is the key piece of EU legislation combating discrimination ‘on grounds of race or ethnic origin’. It prevents unfavourable treatment based on race or ethnic origin:

  • in the areas of employment, education and social protection (including social security and healthcare);
  • in access to and the supply of goods and services (including housing).

A recent European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) report describes a qualitative study to gauge the application of the Racial Equality Directive to employment practices in Malta. Similar studies were commissioned in all EU Member States.

The report is based on the findings of a survey involving face-to-face interviews with representatives from key employer organisations and trade unions in Malta, and the national equality body (NCPE).

Background to the study

Malta has seen a surge in the arrival of undocumented migrants by boat from the North African coast in recent years. As a result, most people tend to refer to this category of migrants when speaking about racial equality in Malta.

These migrants are normally kept in detention centres for periods ranging from 12 to 18 months. When they are transferred to open centres, their prospects of finding adequate work are minimal and so they try to find piecework in the informal economy, which often means poor working conditions. Some of them do manage to get jobs in the formal economy, but this is often doing unskilled work such as street cleaning or refuse collection, or in the hotel and catering industry.

Main findings

The study quotes the Migrant Integration Policy Index (2007) which found that:

  • over two thirds of Maltese people believe that ethnic discrimination is fairly widespread;
  • just under 19% of the Maltese know about a law punishing ethnic discrimination in the labour market.

Although aware of the equality laws enacted in Malta in recent years, survey respondents from the main trade unions were less conscious of the Racial Equality Directive and the specific areas it covers.

The General Workers’ Union (GWU), which is the biggest trade union in Malta, seemed more proactive on the issue. Among other things, it had released a policy statement on racial equality and was educating irregular migrants on their rights and duties at work.

The respondent from the United Workers’ Union (UHM) remarked that a culture change was needed before things could improve and that the union was trying to pass on the message that, if foreigners are paid less, native Maltese workers can suffer. She said that the union was against social dumping and in favour of equality.

The representative from the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) remarked that, in certain cases, employers may not be aware that certain behaviour is discriminatory as there is little information on the subject. She added that they had received few queries from employers on these issues.

The respondent from the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality (NCPE) said that employers and unions were slowly becoming more conscious of the directive and subsequent laws. She reported that training organised by the Commission for employers on diversity management had attracted considerable interest.

Malta’s equality body does not have a remit to cover racial discrimination at work. This remit is assigned to the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER). This has created a fragmented approach to racial equality that is not beneficial to those seeking help.

Views on how better to tackle discrimination

When asked what should be done to increase awareness about racial equality, some respondents suggested more media campaigns to make employers and employees more aware of their rights and duties. Others suggested that politicians should promote the value of tolerance and inclusiveness. The need for a well-resourced equality body was also mentioned, along with language training for immigrants to increase their chances of integrating in the community and of finding employment.


The research shows that, while directives such as the Racial Equality Directive are important at EU level, their implementation may take much longer at national level. Maltese unions and employers are slowly becoming more aware of the need to promote racial equality, but much more needs to be done to ensure this type of discrimination is avoided in the workplace.


Borg, A., The impact of the Racial Equality Directive: a survey of trade unions and employers in the Member States of the European Union. Malta (63Kb, PDF), FRA, Vienna, 2010.

Anna Borg, Centre for Labour Studies

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