Malta: Latest developments in working life Q1 2019
The financial implications of the new EU directive on parental leave and proposals to reform the Industrial Tribunal 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 2019.
Paternity leave directive draws mixed reactions
A new EU directive, which proposes giving 10 days of paternity leave to fathers, drew a strong reaction from employer organisations in Malta. They stated that the extra costs resulting from this directive should be paid by the government.
Abigail Mamo, the CEO of the Chamber of Small and Medium Size Enterprises (GRTU), said that measures proposed under the new directive would create a heavy burden for SMEs. She added that the competences and views of social partners should be taken into account in the case of pay arrangements.
The Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) insisted that the government should finance the payment for this type of extra leave, in line with many other countries. David Casa, the Maltese member of the European Parliament and a member of the opposition Nationalist Party, expressed his agreement with the MEA’s stance.
Other employer organisations (such as the Malta Hotels and Restaurant Association (MHRA), and the Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry) urged the government to consult with employers about the additional costs that would result from the proposed measures. They said that these costs might jeopardise the viability and competitiveness of commercial businesses.
The Malta Business Bureau (MBB) – while cautious about the implications of the directive – welcomed the fact that Member States would be able to determine the level of remuneration for this paternity leave, with the proviso that it would not be less than the minimum level of sickness pay. MBB President Simon De Cesare said that the directive gives the flexibility inherent in the EU general policy of subsidiarity to whoever is going to finance the costs. 
A spokesperson for the Ministry of European Affairs and Equality stated that government would engage with social partners and interested parties to identify the best way to implement the directive.
No comments were made by the trade unions.
MEA proposes changes to Industrial Tribunal
On 20 February, the MEA held a conference on reforms to the Industrial Tribunal. The conference aimed to generate a discussion about the changes that need to be made to this institution, based on an analysis of its operations and developments in the Maltese labour market.
The Industrial Tribunal is set up in accordance with the provisions laid down in the Employment and Industrial Relations Act. The minister is obliged to refer a dispute to the tribunal within 21 days of the date of a notification or request from any of the parties involved in a trade dispute. During the proceedings, the tribunal has the same judicial powers as a civil court (i.e. the right to summon witnesses and oblige people, summoned or involved, to take the oath). The tribunal decision is binding for both parties.
The MEA proposed a number of reforms to the tribunal.
- The chairperson should be lawyer with seven years of experience.
- An Employment Appeals Tribunal should be set up to avoid appeals being referred to court.
- Appeals should only be allowed for unfair dismissal cases.
- Cases should be concluded within three months.
- Compensation should be capped at 18 months of salary.
- The chairperson and members should serve for a set period of time.
The proposal about capping the amount of compensation led to disagreement among social partners, particularly the trade unions. Andrew Borg Cardona, a seasoned lawyer in the field of industrial relations, said that the tribunal currently uses a variety of parameters when calculating compensation and that the lack of a cap grants it wide discretionary powers.
One proposal that social partners particularly agreed upon was the need to speed up the tribunal process. Josef Bugeja, Secretary General of the General Workers’ Union (GWU), noted that some reinstatement cases take years to be settled. Josef Vella, Secretary General of the Voice of the Workers union (UHM), proposed to speed up the process by making the tribunal chairperson a full-time position. The representative of the Confederation of Trade Unions (FOR.U.M), Chris Attard, stated that good mediation could reduce the caseload of the tribunal. Charlotte Camilleri, an MEA executive, remarked that the cases that were settled amicably outnumbered those referred to or settled by the Industrial Tribunal in 2016 and 2017. 
As noted by Simon De Cesare, the proviso that paternity leave pay is related to minimum sick leave pay gives the flexibility inherent in the general policy of subsidiarity to whoever is going to finance the cost. The government might use this flexibility to introduce some measures designed to mitigate the additional costs employers are likely to incur.