Malta: Latest working life developments – Q1 2017

A campaign for minimum wage increases led by non-governmental organisations; declining trade union density; and continuing attempts to address disputes between trade unions are the main topics of interest in this article.  This country update reports on the latest developments in working life in Malta in the first quarter of 2017.

Campaign for minimum wage increase keeps momentum

A group of 16 non-governmental organisations, led by church organisation Caritas Malta, has kept up the pressure on the government to raise the minimum wage. They argue that, although prices have risen, the minimum wage (in real terms) has not. Indeed, the campaigners maintain that the minimum wage amounts to less than 50% of Malta’s median income. The campaign speakers, at a rally in Valletta, stressed that their aim is helping the poor rather than eradicating poverty. They accept that the proposed monthly increase of €80 would not make the minimum wage fair, but would contribute towards fairness. The Prime Minister has backed the proposals, but is awaiting a consensual decision by the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD).

No change in trade union membership

The report by the Registrar of Trade Unions, covering the period July 2015 to June 2016, reveals an overall increase of 2,177 trade union members – mainly because two trade unions have been set up to represent members of the police force. The officers were given the right to join a union by a legal amendment in 2015. This apart, the two largest Maltese trade unions, the General Workers Union (GWU) and the Malta Workers’ Union (UHM), together registered a very modest increase of 224 members. This is despite the fact that 24,350 workers joined the Maltese workforce between 2014 and 2016, some 90% of these in the private sector. This may not be a good sign for these unions’ resilience.

Disputes between trade unions

There have been numerous cases of recognition disputes, where two trade unions with members at an enterprise have claimed to have the majority of members. An escalation in this kind of dispute occurs when the collective agreement binding them is due to expire. Amendments have been made to the industrial and labour law (Legal Notice 413 of 2016) to addressing this issue :

When two unions claim to have a majority (which is possible because workers can be dual members), a secret ballot is to be held under the supervision of the Director of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER); a fresh claim cannot be made before a year has elapsed from this secret ballot.

  • Trade union members must not be more than three months in arrears with their membership fees.
  • Claims to be granted recognition by another union cannot be made during the three-month period before the expiry date of the collective agreement.

Commentary

The absence of trade unions in the campaign to raise the minimum wage may be due to their reluctance to play a secondary role to Caritas Malta. Conversely, they may feel that their contribution to the cause is more valid at the MCESD, where the issue is being discussed with the help of studies conducted by two leading Maltese economists.

The figures in the registrar’s report suggest that the Maltese trade unions are still tied to their core traditional workers, as they have failed to recruit new members from such sectors as internet gaming, financial intermediation, personal care, catering and hospitality, and construction, all of which have registered a substantial increase in workers.

The clearer definition that trade union members must not be more than three months in arrears enables the DIER to be fairer when scrutinising cases of disputes between trade unions. Resorting to a secret ballot provides a more democratic way to solve the issue.

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