Survey examines private sector trade union coverage over 13-year period

An independent study examines the evolution of trade unions in the Maltese private sector between 1995 and 2008, according to collective agreement coverage. The coverage of collective agreements in the sector decreased by 6.2%, while the number of collective agreements in force fell from 212 in 1995 to 168 in 2008. Only about a quarter of full-time employees in the private sector were covered by a collective agreement in 2008, down from about a third 13 years before.

Study background and methodology

In Malta, virtually the whole public sector – which includes both civil service and statutory organisations, comprising about 40,600 workers (National Statistics Office (NSO), 2009) – is covered by sectoral collective agreements. However, it remained unclear to what extent the country’s private sector – which comprises some 103,055 workers, including self-employed persons (NSO, 2009) – is covered by the trade unions and how significant their presence is in an area where market forces prevail and where trade unions need to obtain recognition from private employers for collective bargaining purposes.

To answer these questions, Baldacchino and Gatt (2009) cross-tabulated 2008 employment statistics – defined according to economic sub-sector and obtained from the Employment and Training Corporation (ETC) – with the lists of collective agreements in force during 2008, obtained from both the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations and the respective trade unions covering employees in the Maltese private sector. The results of this study were then compared with a similar one, using a comparable methodology, undertaken on the basis of 1995 data (Baldacchino, 1996). This allowed for a comparative analysis of trade union membership trends over a 13-year period, that is, from 1995 to 2008. Data from the National Statistics Office (NSO) for 2008 were used to determine the number of full-time employees engaged in the Maltese economy.

Main study findings

Distribution of collective agreements in private sector

Table 1 provides an overview of the distribution of collective agreements in the private sector, measured according to the number of collective agreements secured in each area of economic activity and by the proportion of employees covered by these agreements. The areas of economic activity are defined according to the Statistical Classification of Economic Activities in the European Community (Nomenclature statistique des activités économiques dans la Communauté européenne, NACE) in 2008.

Table 1: Distribution of collective agreements in private sector, by number of companies and % of employees covered, 2008
NACE code Economic activity (by sector) No. of private sector companies with collective agreements in 2008 % of employees covered by a collective agreement
01 Agriculture, hunting and related services activities 0.0%
05 Fishing, fish-farming and related services activities 0.0%
10–14 Mining and quarrying 1 4.1%
15–37 Manufacturing 61 47.1%
40–41 Electricity, gas and water supply 0.0%
45 Construction 3 7.1%
50–52 Wholesale and retail trade, repair of motor vehicles, motorcycles and personal and household goods 16 4.2%
55 Food and accommodation 15 15.6%
60–64 Transport, storage and communication 12 44.4%
65–67 Financial intermediation 9 66.1%
70–74 Real estate, renting and business activities 13 13.5%
80 Education 10 58.1%
85 Human health and social work 8 12.6%
90–93 Other community, social and personal services 13 15.3%
  Total 161 26.7%

Source: Baldacchino and Gatt, 2009

The data in Table 1 show that total collective bargaining coverage in 2008 stood at just over a quarter (26.7%) of the full-time private sector labour force. The four leading economic sectors in terms of the highest density of collective agreements covering full-time employees are: financial intermediation (66%), education (58%), manufacturing (47%), and transport, storage and communications (44%). Together, these four sectors cover about 36,000 full-time employees, or just over 40% of employees in the Maltese private sector. In contrast, all of the other economic sectors report a much lower density of collective agreement coverage, ranging from 0%–15% of full-time employees.

Collective agreements by sector

Looking more closely at each of the key sectors offers some additional insights. The financial intermediation sector had the highest relative proportion of companies with collective agreements in place in 2008. This sector includes banks, brokers, financial consultants, financial advisors and insurance companies. Out of 22 licensed banks in Malta, four have a collective agreement in force. Moreover, out of 46 registered insurance-related companies, two had a collective agreement in force in 2008.

The level of employment in the education sector reflects the expansion of private education in Malta over recent decades. A closer look at the figure of 58% regarding collective bargaining density reveals that this is made up of 11 collective agreements secured with 10 entities. Most of the employees benefiting from a collective agreement in this sector are covered by a single agreement: that is, some 1,459 teachers engaged in 81 ‘church schools’. Besides this, seven other privately run ‘independent schools’ had a collective agreement in place in 2008.

The manufacturing sector continues to have the largest number of full-time employees in the private sector. The 10 largest manufacturing companies – each with 300 or more full-time employees – remain strongly unionised: they employed more than two out of every three unionised full-time employees in manufacturing in 2008, representing a total of some 6,250 employees. The remaining 3,000 or so employees covered by collective agreements in this sector are distributed across no less than 51 other companies. Over one third (38%) of all private sector collective agreements in force in Malta in 2008 were in manufacturing.

In the transport, storage and communication sector, just five relatively large companies had collective agreements in place in 2008. Of these, four were former public service or statutory bodies, in which the state had a controlling interest.

Trade union presence in private sector

Table 2 gives a comparative analysis of trade union coverage in the Maltese private sector over a span of 13 years, by examining the number and proportion of employees covered by collective agreement in this period.

Table 2: Comparative analysis of trade union presence, by number and proportion of employees covered by collective agreements, 1995–2008
.Sector Total number of full-time employees Full-time employees covered by collective agreements % covered by collective agreements
June 2008 March 1995 2008 1995 2008 1995
Primary 993 1,002 16 1.6% 0.0%
Secondary 25,856 31,818 9,708 14,305 37.5% 45.0%
Tertiary 58,929 34,440 13,155 7,823 22.3% 22.7%
Total 85,778 67,260 22,879 22,128 26.7% 32.9%

Notes: Primary sector includes agriculture, fishing, mining and quarrying industries; secondary sector comprises manufacturing, construction and energy supply; and the tertiary sector covers services.

Source: Baldacchino and Gatt, 2009

Over the 13-year period in question, some significant changes have occurred in employment distribution and trade union penetration. Some 6,000 full-time manufacturing jobs have been lost over this period, while some 24,500 service sector jobs have been created. With employment in the primary (extractive) industries remaining virtually unchanged, this has meant a net increase of over 18,500 full-time jobs in the private sector.

The total number of full-time employees in the private sector increased by 28% – that is, from 67,260 employees in 1995 to 85,778 in 2008 (Table 2). Collective bargaining coverage overall has also increased marginally: in 2008, some 22,879 full-time, private sector employees were covered by a collective agreement compared with 22,128 employees in 1995.

However, the proportional coverage of collective agreements in the private sector decreased by an overall 6.2 percentage points over the 13-year span – that is, from 32.9% to 26.7%. The secondary sector experienced a decline of 7.5 percentage points in collective agreement coverage – that is, from 45% to 37.5%. Collective agreement coverage in the services sector expanded in the 13-year period to include an additional 5,300 workers or so; however, this expansion of coverage was not enough to match the sector’s increase in employment, resulting in an overall slight decline in collective agreement coverage in the services sector – that is, from 22.7% to 22.3%.

This loss of trade union presence and influence in the Maltese private sector over the period 1995–2008 span is also evident in the falling number of collective agreements in force in the same sector: more specifically, from 212 agreements overall in 1995 to 168 agreements in 2008 (Table 3). The data suggest that the main loser in this domain has been the General Workers’ Union (GWU), where one third less collective agreements were signed in the private sector in 2008 compared with 1995. The other trade union organisations examined included the Union of United Workers (Union Haddiema Maghqudin, UHM), the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT) and the Malta Union of Bank Employees (MUBE).

Table 3: Number of collective agreements, by trade union, 1995–2008
Year GWU UHM MUT MUBE Others Total
2008 109 42 7 4 6 168
1995 158 42 3 4 5 212

Source: Baldacchino and Gatt, 2009

Commentary

The data outlined provide some useful information on trends in and the evolution of private sector trade unions in Malta. In 2008, only about a quarter of full-time employees in the private sector were covered by a collective agreement signed between an employer and a trade union – this has fallen from around one third of full-time employees in 1995.

References

Baldacchino, G., ‘Trade unions in the Maltese private sector’, Bank of Valletta Review (Malta), No. 13, Spring 1996, pp. 17–31.

Baldacchino, G. and Gatt, R. (2009). ‘Thirteen years later: Trade unions in the Maltese private sector revisited’, Bank of Valletta Review, No. 40, Autumn 2009, pp.1-17(forthcoming).

National Statistics Office (NSO), ‘Gainfully occupied population: January 2007–March 2009’, News Release, 6 August 2009, Valletta, NSO, 2009.

Godfrey Baldacchino and Rebecca Gatt, Centre for Labour Studies

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