EurWORK European Observatory of Working Life

Working time in the European Union: Malta

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  • Observatory: EurWORK
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  • Published on: 15 November 2009

Marvin Formosa

Disclaimer: This information is made available as a service to the public but has not been edited or approved by the European Foundation for the Improvement of Living and Working Conditions. The content is the responsibility of the authors.

Between 2000 and 2006, the number of weekly hours worked by Maltese employees decreased by 4.2%. This can be attributed to an increase of part-time workers and more women entering the labour market. According to the National Statistics Office, the majority of the employed persons working atypical hours are shop owners and salespersons, as well as workers in catering, such as chefs and waiters. Women experience significantly less flexibility in their working time schedule compared with men.

This national contribution on working time has been based on a questionnaire that has been made for all member states plus Norway. The national contributions collects data inter alia from; firstly the EU Labour Force Survey which covers average hours worked by men and women employees both overall and in part-time and full-time jobs, the proportion of men and women in part-time jobs and the relative number of men and women employed under different arrangements as regards working time. Secondly, from the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey conducted by the European Foundation which covers other aspects of working time, including the number of days worked per week, evening, night and weekend working, the organisation of working time, the proportion of people with second jobs, the time spent commuting as well as on unpaid work.

These data are intended to form the basis of the replies to the questions asked but other relevant data have been used where available to supplement these.

Duration of work

Average weekly hours

Surveys show, that in the last years, Maltese employees have decreased their working hours. According to the EU-27 Labour Force Study, in the period 2000-2006, employees experienced a decrease of 4.2% in their average weekly hours at work (from 40.1 to 38.4 hours). Males working in full-time jobs experienced a decrease of 2.6% in their average weekly hours when compared to a decrease of 1.3% among their female counterparts. On the other hand, while males in part-time jobs experienced a decrease of 4.1% in their average weekly hours at work, this compared to a decrease of 1.4% among females.

A study conducted by the National Statistics Office (NSO) on working time (2005) reported that workers work an average of 38.1 ‘normal hours’ and 36.5 ‘actual hours’ per week. The term ‘normal hours worked’ refers to the standard working hours, whereas the term ‘actual hours worked’ refers to the actual number of hours that employees spend at the workplace, taking into account hours which, although paid, are not worked, such as vacation and sick leave. On the other hand, according to the Fourth European Working Conditions Survey (EWCS) (2005), Maltese workers work 41 weekly hours. Whilst self-employed work an average of 50 hours per week, employees work an average of 39 hours per week.

This decrease in working weekly hours in the years 2002-2007 can be attributed to an increase of part-time workers and more women entering the labour market. Labour market data collected by the NSO indicated that from 2002 to June 2007, there was an increase from 31,725 to 46,304 of employees in part-time jobs, and an increase from 39,669 to 43,147 of women in full-time employment. It is difficult to say whether this reduction of weekly working hours was also affected by a reduction in the number of people who work long hours, as statistics do not provide any year-patterned data on this respect. However, the Fourth EWCS found that whilst 15.7% of the total employed work 42-48 hours per week, 13.8% work 48 or more hours weekly.

Annual hours worked

According to the EU-27 Labour Force Study Maltese employees experienced a decrease of 1.7% in their annual hours worked, from 1,821 hours in 2000 to 1,790 hours in 2004. The Survey does not list any data for the years 2005 and 2006. There is no evidence that the number of hours worked per year decreased due to an increasing number of holidays. On the contrary, since 2005, public holidays public holidays falling on weekends are no longer added to employees’ vacation leave. This issue put the notion of working time in common use in political and everyday discussions. Although this government decision was supported by both the Malta Employers Association (MEA) and the Chamber of Commerce, the major Maltese trade unions have declared that they will resist any law which breaches existing collective agreements. It is noteworthy that according to the EUObserver, Malta (together with Austria) has the most public holidays in the EU, a total of 14 public holidays and an annual leave entitlement of 24 days.

Days of work per week

The Fourth EWCS found that the majority (65.1%) of workers in Malta work five days per week. This working schedule is the norm in government departments, services and the manufacturing industry. The second most common working schedule is the six day week (18.4%), common in banks and the medical sector. There are no obvious political trends in this respect such as to reduce the number of days worked per week or to increase the number of hours worked each day.

Full-time and part-time working

Part-time work is a growing feature in the labour market, especially amongst women. As already highlighted in section 2.1.1, the NSO study on working time indicated from 2002 to June 2007 there was an increase 46% of employees in part-time jobs. The number of men and women in 2002 who held a part-time job in addition to a full-time job was 11,434 and 3,144 respectively, in comparison to 14,556 and 5,560 in June 2007. At the same time, the number of men and women in 2002 who held a part-time job as their primary job was 6,491 and 10,656 respectively in comparison to 10,689 and 15,499 in June 2007. The EU-27 Labour Force Study reported an increase of 1.3% of Maltese men working part-time in the years 2000 to 2006, and as much as 9.7% for their female counterparts. The government is encouraging part-time work in both passive and active ways. The last two national budgets contained a substantial revision of income tax bands that served to increase disposable incomes of middle-income families. At the same time, a new unemployment register is being introduced for people searching for part-time jobs.

Collective bargaining

There are three contemporary working time concerns and priorities of trade unions in collective bargaining - namely, Malta’s resistance of the EU working time directive, the government’s amendment of the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act by which public holidays falling on Saturdays or Sundays are no longer added to employees’ vacation leave, and whether public employees should retain their half-days in summer.

Unlike the trend in other EU countries, all the Maltese social partners agree that the abolition of the opt-out from the EU Working Time Directive’s 48-hour limit on average weekly working hours would be harmful to the national economy. The General Workers’ Union (GWU), Malta’s largest union, argued in favour of enabling workers to work up to 65 hours per week, in order to enable them to increase their wages and permit a better standard of living. The union is in favour of having the maximum amount of weekly working hours regulated through collective bargaining. The Confederation of Malta Trade Unions (CMTU), an umbrella organisation embracing ten unions, also expressed its disapproval of the European Parliament’s proposed revisions to the Directive, despite acknowledging the good intentions that prompted the proposed changes. In line with the GWU, the CMTU stated that considering the relatively low Maltese standard of living, the removal of the opt-out clause would be detrimental to workers’ economic situation. The Malta Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises (GRTU) also expressed its discontent about the proposed repeal of the opt-out clause, stressing that the change will affect Maltese entrepreneurs negatively. Many of the firms operating in the Maltese labour market are small businesses. The financial restraints inherent in small size do not enable the owners of these enterprises to hire extra labour in order to remain competitive. The MEA argued that in many local cases, employees who will not be able to work extra hours because of the limit on overtime will seek to increase their income by working part-time with other companies. If this happens, it would be detrimental to the employer and would also goes against the objectives that the working time directive has set for itself, since employees would be working longer hours nonetheless.

Another aspect in contemporary local bargaining on working time concerns relates to the government’s amendment of the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act (2005). By this amendment, public holidays falling on Saturdays or Sundays were no longer added to employees’ vacation leave. While this decision was applauded by the employers’ associations, it was severely denounced by trade unions. Employers viewed this amendment as a cost saving measure which could eventually safeguard jobs and boost investments. For instance, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) welcomed the public holidays' measure and urged employers to ensure its implementation in order to enhance the competitiveness of the accommodation and hospitality industry. The GWU, on the other hand, strongly expressed it disapproval of this measure. It stated that ‘competitiveness can be achieved in several ways, but no responsible union will accept this to be done at the cost of reducing employees’ rights and the rights of free collective bargaining’. The amendment was viewed as a means of reducing workers’ benefits and conditions, bypassing both the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (2002) and collective agreements.

Finally, one ongoing debate is whether pubic employees should retain their half-days in summer. Most of the government employees work half-days between 15 June and end of September, compensating for these missing hours during the rest of the months in the same calendar year. This timetable makes up an average of 40 hours per week, every year. According to the Union of United Workers (Union Haddiema Maghqudin, UHM), this practice should be retained as one should consider the issue of half-days as not only a measure to accommodate employees during Malta’s hot summer afternoons but also as a family friendly measure. The union asserted that the existing working conditions encourage parents to keep their jobs, considering the fact that they can spend more time with their children during the summer school holidays. However, the MEA disagrees with this position, since enterprises that want to survive and grow in a competitive environment, must adapt their working time to suit the needs of the clients and to improve their efficiency. It is the reason why there is seasonal employment in some industries, why employees work on a shift basis in others, and why other businesses have to ask their employees to be present on weekends and public holidays. According to the MEA, each enterprise should be free to design its own distribution of working hours provided that this fits within the established legal parameters.

Work schedules

The working day and working week

The NSO study on working time reported that 47.1% and 70.2% of the total employed population never work on Saturdays and Sundays respectively. This is slightly higher than the EU-27 average and can be attributed to the Catholic tradition which is dominant in the Maltese islands. At the same time, 70.5% and 81.0% never work on weekdays between 20.00-23.00 and 23.00-05.00 hours respectively. This survey also provided statistics on the distribution of the total employed by type of working hours. It found that the majority (75%) work fixed hours, whilst 10.7% work a number of core hours with variation in the start and end time. A further 7.7% are estimated to determine their working schedule. The Fourth EWCS also reported that 9.2% and 13.2% of total employed work 1-5 and 5 nights per month respectively, 15.2% and 21.3% work 1-5 and 5 evenings per month, and 22.2% and 7.2% work 4-5 (all) Sundays in a month. Moreover, whilst 73.3% of the total population work the same number of hours everyday, 81.8% declare to work the same number of days every week. These statistics show that the standard ‘full-time’ day (08.00/09.00 to 17.00/18.00) and the ‘standard time norm’ of the working week (40 hour, 5 day week) prevails as the norm.

Non-standard work arrangements

According to the NSO study on working time, the majority of the employed persons working atypical hours are shop owners and salespersons, as well as workers in catering, such as chefs and waiters. Only 10.1% state that these working hours are inconvenient for their lifestyle. Non-standard schedules are becoming increasingly present in the economy. On one hand, this is influenced by a shift in employment from the public to the private sector. This invariably leads to increasing rates of non-standard work schedules, as international studies show clearly how problems relating to working hours are more prevalent among those employed by private rather than public companies. On the other hand, many employees in the tourism sector tend to experience longer and more atypical working hours during the peak season. This seasonal trend in working patterns has increased in recent years as more companies are engaging employees on temporary and short-term contracts.

Shift working

Regular shift working is instrumental to the production sector of the economy. A comparison between the 2000 and 2006 Labour Force Surveys carried out by the NSO reveals that the number of workers involved in shift work decreased slightly, from 28,841 to 28,444. The largest percentage of shift workers are employed in the manufacturing sector, followed by workers in health and social work, transport, storage and communications, and hotels and restaurant sectors. Moreover, whilst these studies indicate a 30.9% decline in the number of machine operators and assemblers involved in shift work, a 137.9% increase was registered for technicians and associate professionals. This is not surprising considering the overall decline of labour intensive industries and the rise of high tech industries in Malta in recent years. The Fourth EWCS reported that 22.2% of the Maltese employed population work shifts, with 2.2% in daily split shifts, 45.5% in permanent shifts (morning, afternoon, and night), 47.7% in alternating/rotating shifts, and 5.2% in other types of shifts. The 2006 Labour Force Survey reported the Saturday shift as the most dominant shift period, with 49.3% of workers claiming to work on most Saturdays, followed by working on Sundays (28.4%), weekdays between 8.00 p.m and 11.00 p.m. (28.4%), and weekdays between 11.00 p.m. and 5.00 a.m. (19.0%).

Organisation of working time

Flexibility of working time

NSO statistics released in 2006 reported that, while 31% of the working population are able to modify their working schedule for family reasons by at least one hour, 43.5% cannot. Women experience significantly less flexibility in their working time schedule compared with men.

According to the Fourth EWCS, 72.8% of Maltese workers work fixed and starting and finishing times, 83.3% have no possibility for changes, 4.3% can choose between several fixed working schedules, and 8.2% can determine their working hours. Asked if they experience changes to their work schedules, 69.3% replied in the negative. The rest stated that changes were communicated the same day (6.7%), the day before (8.8%), several days in advance (9.2%), several weeks in advance (5.1%). According to the NSO study, men also find it slightly easier to work extra hours during particular days in order to take other days off for family reasons. Some 56.9% of women state that this is never possible, in comparison to 52.6% of men.

The extent to which employees have some flexibility over their working hours and to determine their work schedules appears to be minimal. According to EUROSTAT, over 90% of employees aged 25-49 have either fixed or staggered hours of work in Malta in 2007. No data was found as to the extent that workers can determine their own work schedules - in other words, work when they like, so long as work is delivered on time. The NSO study on working time found that 89.9% of employees working ‘atypical’ hours declare such work timings to be convenient to them. EUROSTAT statistics also point out that Maltese employees in non-manual and better-paid have greater flexibility regarding their working time arrangements.

Other working time issues

Multiple job holding

The Fourth EWCS reported that 89.9% of total employed in Malta hold no second job, 6.0 have a regular second job, 3.2 have an occasional second job, and 1.0 have a second job of a seasonal nature. Although there are no reliable data on this matter, second and third jobs are generally seen as supplementary sources of income relative to the main job which tends to be career based. Statistics also show that more men than women are involved in multiple job handling, since the latter are traditionally responsible for the caring of both young and older family members, as well as for providing support to their husbands.

Commuting time

The Fourth EWCS found that in Malta commuting time to work and back consists of a mean of 33.9 minutes with a standard deviation of 24.7. Commuting is commonplace for everybody and usually involves workers commuting to the inner and outer harbour areas (especially Valletta) where most jobs are located. Due to the small size of Malta, this community time is lower than the EU-27 average. It is noteworthy that the government is currently promoting teleworking as a means of increasing the number of family-friendly occupations, with the Minister responsible for IT publicly stating that telework can improve the environment by reducing traffic congestions and relieve the problem of parking, especially in central administrative and commercial areas.

Unpaid working hours (of those in work)

There is no public debate about the impact of time spent on unpaid work in the home, although the government and NGOs alike are in favour that the work involved has to be shared more evenly between partners. The Fourth EWCS reported that whilst Maltese men spend 4.7 hours caring for and educating children per day, women spend 13.3 hours. At the same time, men and women spend 2.5 and 14.8 hours doing housework, and 0.9 and 1.7 hours caring for adults respectively. Hence, whilst men spend an average of 7.7 hours in unpaid work, the figure for women is 25.1 hours.

Composite indicators of weekly working hours

According to the Fourth EWCS, the composite number of weekly working hours in Malta is tantamount to 56.5 hours (40.6 paid working hours in lieu of main job, 0.8 paid working hours in lieu of second job, 2.7 hours commuting time, and 12.4 unpaid working hours). Women have longer weekly working hours than men. Whilst men score an average of 54.4 weekly working hours (40.6 paid working hours in main job, 0.8 paid working hours in second job, 2.7 hours commuting time, and 12.4 unpaid working hours), women score 61.1 hours (35.4 paid working hours in main job, 0.3 paid working hours in second job, 2.8 hours commuting time, and 22.6 working hours). The implications of such composite indicators of weekly working hours by gender is that the Maltese family is still not symmetrical with women remaining responsible for more domestic duties than men.

Marvin Formosa, Centre for Labour Studies, University of Malta

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