Malta: Latest working life developments Q3 2018

The suspension of the government’s new holiday rules and a lack of people with disabilities in some workplaces 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 2018.

Social partners clash over holiday rules

On 10 August, the Maltese government issued a Legal Notice with new rules relating to holiday leave for employees, which are due to come into force on 1 January 2019. These new rules restrict the discretionary power and arbitrary decision-making of employers in terms of holiday leave procedures and how leave can be used. They give employees much more leeway on how they use their holiday leave entitlement. The changes introduced included the following:

  • Annual leave entitlement will continue to accrue during the period in which the employee is on maternity leave, sickness or injury leave and leave without pay which is used by employees during maternity, sickness or injury.
  • Once granted, leave cannot be cancelled unilaterally by the employer.
  • The employer can only utilise up to 12 working days from the annual leave entitlement for shut-down purposes or any temporary closure of premises.

The rules also oblige employers to provide additional information on pay slips such as the total wages paid to date, the number of normal hours and overtime worked, and the respective pay rates for Sundays and public holidays.

Employer organisations stated that these regulations had been introduced by ‘stealth’ because their enactment had never been included in the agenda of the Employment Relations Board (ERB) meetings.[1] The ERB is a tripartite institution set up in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Employment and Industrial Relations Act to discuss and propose new labour laws and/or make recommendations to proposed legislations.

The main four employer organisations (the Malta Employers’ Association (MEA), the Malta Chamber of Commerce (MCCEI), the Malta Hotel and Restaurants Association (MHRA), and the Malta Chamber of Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises (GRTU)) accused the government of hijacking the principles of social dialogue by failing to consult with them about the new rules. As a protest against this unilateral decision taken by government, they stated that they would not be attending any future ERB meetings. In response, the Ministry for European Affairs and Equality stated that these changes had been on the agenda of a national public conference and were meant to ensure that Maltese labour laws are in line with decisions taken by the European Court of Justice.

However, Joe Farrugia, Director General of the MEA and its representative in the ERB, contended that the new rules were too skewed in favour of employees and did not consider that management may have to sometimes take arbitrary decisions to ensure continuity of services and production.

The MHRA stated that seasonal nature of the catering and hospitality sectors means that replacing staff who are on leave can be difficult for management and the new rules could make this even more complex. Also, cases often arise where leave that has been granted to certain employees has to be revoked in order to meet the demands of the sectors.

Following these vocal protests, the government suspended the regulations on 21 August. The General Workers’ Union (GWU) expressed its disapproval about the government’s decision and argued that the measures in the new legislation ensure that all workers enjoy the same rights and working conditions, irrespective of whether they are unionised or not.

The Voice of the Workers (UĦM) union stated that the issues being raised are more about the timing and lack of consultation. It further stated that no draft of the rules was received by the social partners in advance of their enactment. The Malta Chamber, adopting a placatory tone, expressed its hope that a fair resolution could be found that would benefit all stakeholders within the context of a competitive economic scenario.

Companies to be held to account over lack of employees with disabilities

If a company in Malta has 20 or more employees on its pay roll, at least 2% of the workforce is required by law to be registered as workers with a disability by Jobsplus, the public employment service agency. Enforcement of this legal provision has proven to be very elusive and it is widely ignored by employers. To combat this, a rule was introduced in 2014 that requires all employers who do not abide by this law to pay an annual contribution of €1,600 per person with disabilities that they fail to employ. These contributions are transferred to an integration fund used for the employment and training of people with disabilities.

Following pressure from Jobsplus, most employers have paid this contribution but there are still some who refuse to comply and they are liable to serve three months in prison. While such a measure has not been enforced so far, Jobsplus has hinted that it could be implemented in the future to ensure total conformity with the rules.[2]

Commentary

The government has been criticised by left-leaning radicals for backing down too easily over the new holiday rules and sacrificing the plight of workers in order to reach a consensus. In a local weekly television programme, Sammy Meilaq, a former trade union activist and worker-manager at Malta Drydocks, stated that the new rules grant workers inalienable rights that should never be compromised.

In the case of the employment of people with disabilities, the government seems more prepared to adopt a firmer stance in order to enforce the rules.

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