Malta: Latest working life developments – Q1 2018

Industrial action by doctors, a collective agreement signed by pilots, the formation of a new teachers’ union, and the right to equal treatment in the workplace 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 2018.

Disputes between government and doctors lead to strike action

The first quarter saw tensions rise between the Medical Association of Malta (MAM) and the government over the transfer of a concession to operate three state hospitals from Vitals Global Healthcare (VGH) to Steward Health Care. The deal came just 21 months after VGH signed a lease agreement with the government to operate these hospitals. MAM contended that the government, in failing to consult the association about the transfer, breached the collective agreement by which it was bound to give them six weeks’ notice in case of a takeover, including outsourcing of the healthcare services provided by the government. As the two parties failed to reach an amicable solution, MAM called a one-day strike by doctors on 6 February 2018. The association informed the government that only urgent cases would be treated at certain medical centres. MAM reported almost total compliance by doctors to its directive. Following this industrial action, conciliatory meetings were held during which the two parties agreed on a framework regulating any future privatisation within the public health sector. By the end of March 2018, a second draft agreement was drawn up in the presence of officials representing Steward Health Care. MAM stated that the parties were close to reaching an agreement.

Pilots union signs collective agreement 

In its aim to finalise the restructuring exercise which has been ongoing for the past eight years, Air Malta signed four separate collective agreements with trade unions representing cabin crew, engineers, ground personnel and general staff. Highly tense negotiations with the Airline Pilots Association (ALPA) risked stalling the entire restructuring process, which seemed to be moving closer to its conclusion in the final quarter of 2017. The pilots disapproved of the working practices introduced in the agreement, which entailed longer flight hours. They also expressed their opposition to the setting up of the government-owned company Malta Air Travel Limited, which would own the Air Malta slots at several airports. In an online questionnaire, the pilots overwhelmingly gave a mandate to their union to order strike action. The government, through the Minister of Tourism Konrad Mizzi, stated that the offer made to the pilots was final. The Prime Minister, Joseph Muscat, warned pilots that the government had in place a contingency plan in case of strike action. Following the mediation of a former president of Malta, ALPA was persuaded to approve the agreement that was offered by the government. The agreement was signed on 26 January 2018. Air Malta stated that the agreement meets the requirements of the restructuring plan approved by the European Commission and is line within the constraints of the airline.

Teachers form new breakaway union

A breakaway teachers’ union, under the name of Union of Professional Educators, was set up following discontent over the collective agreement signed between the government and the Malta Union of Teachers (MUT). The new union was created by three former MUT council members, who stated that the council was never presented with a complete printed version of the agreement and it was through the media that they learned about certain aspects of the new agreement. Educators said they felt ‘betrayed’ after finding out that the pay rise they had expected did not materialise in the agreement. The new union was set up under the wings of UĦM Voice of the Workers, which is the second largest Maltese trade union in terms of membership.

Proposed workplace equality law sparks controversy

In January 2018, the proposed Equality Act 2018 was sent to social partners for their comments. The bill proposes the appointment of an Equality and Human Rights Commissioner with the authority to investigate and take punitive actions against alleged practices of inequality in the workplace. The Malta Employers’ Association stated that the wide-ranging powers to be granted to the Commissioner pander to the extremist views of gay and feminist lobby groups. Conversely, LGBTIQ lobby group MGRM stated that the proposed law provides more effective access to the right to equal treatment for all workers. There were no reactions from the trade unions regarding the bill.

Commentary

The events during the first quarter of 2018 confirm the new trend in industrial relations whereby the militant mood, once considered the hallmark of manual workers employed in the manufacturing sector and the docks, is now being manifested among professionals such as pilots, doctors and teachers. This trend is likely to persist. The strife between government and employers about equal treatment in the workplace is likely to continue until the bill is presented for debate before parliament.
 

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