Telework in Malta

No commonly agreed definition of telework exists in Malta. So far, it represents only a small labour market phenomenon and applies mainly to professionals and managers in large organisations. While teleworkers express no particular health and safety concerns about their work, they are not adequately protected by law. The government aims to promote telework in the public sector, whereas trade unions voice differing opinions on the potential consequences of telework.

Definition of telework

No statutory or collectively agreed definition of telework exists in Malta. No analysis has been carried out so far on telework in collective agreements, nor is it mentioned in Malta’s legislation. During a seminar organised by the Ministry for Investment, Industry and Information Technology (Ministeru ghall-Investiment, Industrja u Teknologija ta' l-Informazzjoni, MIIIT) and Malta’s public employment service, the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC), the following definition of telework was given:

work that is done away from the normal places of work such as offices, factories and is now performed in workers’ homes, cars and airplanes or in another country.

Prevalence of telework

Malta does not have extensive data on telework to benchmark against other European standards, mainly because telework has not yet been formalised, although it definitely occurs on an informal basis.

The Employment Barometer Survey of ETC included two questions for employers related to telework covering the period between the winter of 2004 and the spring of 2005. These questions were based on the definition that a teleworker is a person who works for a set minimum number of hours a day or week away from the place of employment, through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The findings indicate that telework is not really ingrained in Maltese society, as only 3.8% of the 1,118 employers who replied to the survey stated that they have some form of telework in their companies. The survey results also show that larger organisations tend to use telework more often than smaller ones. On the other hand, a separate Survey on ICT usage in enterprises, which was carried out by the National Statistics Office (NSO) in 2003, concluded that teleworking occurs in about 11.4% of enterprises surveyed.

The data issued by the Employment Barometer Survey and NSO underestimate the real extent of the phenomenon as they are based only on employers who have recognised the phenomenon explicitly. While not being formally instructed to do so, many workers, especially professionals and managers, occasionally or regularly spend hours at home planning or completing work that they do not have time to do during normal working hours.

Occupational and sectoral distribution

The Employment Barometer Survey findings indicate that telework is mostly found in occupational areas such as finance, business services, administration, sales, purchasing and marketing. On the other hand, the NSO study lists the following five economic sectors as making the most use of teleworking:

  • computer and related activities – 87%;
  • water and energy – 66.7%;
  • post and telecommunications – 30%;
  • financial intermediation – 27.3%;
  • activities auxiliary to financial intermediation – 22.2%.

Unfortunately, no data was found in relation to the sex and age of teleworkers. Yet, considering that telework tends to occur mostly among workers employed in ICT, professionals and managers, and employees having higher than average levels of control over their work organisation, one may assume that younger and middle-aged men are overrepresented among teleworkers in Malta.

Regulatory framework

In Malta, no specific legislation or collective agreements have been established or concluded as a response to the 2002 European framework agreement on telework (107Kb PDF). Telework is usually carried out following individual and informal agreements between employees and their superiors or employers and modified accordingly on an ad hoc basis. However, a positive development concerns the 2005 Collective agreement for employees in the public service, in which the government committed itself to ‘continue to facilitate the implementation of existing flexibility measures and to further explore the possible introduction of other cost-effective flexibility arrangements such as flexitime, job sharing and teleworking, as and where feasible and appropriate’.

Both employers and employees seem to believe that this gap in telework regulations offers them more benefits than obligations, and hence actually refrain from putting any pressure on the government and/or trade unions to embed telework in some specific legislation.

Employment and working conditions

No research has yet been conducted on workers whose work contract stipulates that all of their work is to be conducted through telework. Some research has been carried out looking at workers whose employment contract allows them to conduct their work through telework. It appears that the latter kind of teleworkers do not have less access to training than other workers.

There are no quantitative surveys tackling the issue of health and safety of persons working away from their company’s premises in Malta. The Maltese Occupational Health and Safety Authority (OHSA) appears to focus on what happens in normal working sites and does not promote health and safety issues arising from teleworking. A qualitative study carried out by ETC showed that respondents were not aware of any health and safety issues which could be attributed to teleworking. However, interviewees admit that taking work home can increase their stress levels as it is harder to draw a line between work and private life. Moreover, the Work Place (Minimum Health and Safety Requirements) Regulations of 2002 (76Kb PDF) consider home workers as self-employed persons; thus, home workers do not benefit from all of the legal protection received by those working under normal workplace conditions. Besides, the regulations do not cover so-called ‘mobile work sites’.

Views of government and social partners

The government has expressed its commitment to the Lisbon Strategy and is implementing the National Action Plan on Employment, aiming to create new forms of employment and achieve a better quality of life. The issue of teleworking has started appearing on official government documents and has been the main topic of a number of conferences and seminars. A set of guidelines for an ‘e-Work Framework’ have been drafted and will be presented for the necessary approvals before being implemented in the public sector. The government hopes that the introduction of e-work guidelines will help reduce the digital divide, increase female employment and workforce skills, promote organisational flexibility and improve environmental conditions by reducing traffic congestion.

The introduction and growth of teleworking will pose challenges to trade unions both at organisational as well as logistical levels. The General Workers’ Union (GWU), whose members tend to be found in traditional working class jobs, seems to distrust the employers’ real motives for introducing the possibility of telework. Its officials argue that telework should not serve as an opportunity for employers to pressurise workers to work more than the stipulated office hours or to reduce workers’ rights. On the other hand, the Union of United Workers (Union Haddiema Maghqudin, UHM), whose membership is largely drawn from administrative employees, looks more favourably towards the introduction of telework, as long as workers are protected. UHM advocates that the government introduces teleworking for public service employees, as this would enable mothers to work from home. UHM also deplores the fact that Maltese employers still frown at the suggestion of teleworking as they believe that employees will not put in a full day’s work at home.

Marvin Formosa, Centre for Labour Studies, University of Malta

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