Social partners issue election messages

The social partners in Malta have sent their proposals for change to the country’s political parties ahead of the general election on 9 March 2013. The employers have called for restraint and caution in wage policy and public sector recruitment. Trade unions urged changes in legislation and in labour market policies to ensure more equity in the labour market. The two sides agreed on the need to set up more child care centres to boost the employment rate among women.

Background

An election was called in Malta after its centre-right Nationalist Party (PN) government failed by one vote to push its 2013 budget through parliament. Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told journalists the Maltese parliament would be dissolved on 7 January 2013, and an election held on 9 March 2013.

The country’s social partners have been giving their views on how the next government should take the country forward.

Employers’ views

The Malta Employers Association (MEA) has said all electoral promises – including any revision of welfare, pensions and any other projected public sector expenditure – need to be based on the fundamental obligation of reducing the national debt. One of the main policies in this regard should be to reduce public costs by curtailing employment in the public sector, which should be less expensive and more effective.

MEA regrets that some unions have equated the notion of precarious work with atypical employment. The latter form of employment should, according to MEA ‘be embraced and encouraged’ as it can create ideal conditions for both employees and employers.

Recognising that employees needed support, MEA advises the new government to steer clear of making family-friendly measures mandatory for employers because this could reduce labour market flexibility and competiveness. It proposes guidelines for family friendly measures agreed between government and the MEA rather than restrictive legislation. Confirming its belief that wages should be determined by labour market forces and productivity, MEA recommends limiting the annual mandatory Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) to minimum wage earners. Otherwise, the government should revise the mechanism to allow for linking wage increases to productivity rather than inflation.

MEA said it was aware of the mounting concern about the inadequacy of wages, which place some families at risk of poverty. However, it believed that raising the minimum wage, as some unions and movements had proposed, would be counterproductive for those categories of workers which such a measure would be intended to help.

Union views

The General Workers Union (GWU) wants wages to be adjusted in line with the COLA every six months rather than on an annual basis. It also calls for a revision of the Legal Notice which empowers the minister responsible for transport to declare specific jobs in land and sea-based transport as essential services. The notice effectively denies transport workers the right to strike (MT1202019I).

GWU also urged the government to tackle the lack of a legal provision for trade union recognition at places of work where more than one trade union claims majority representation among the same group of workers. The union proposes that the issue should be settled by means of a secret ballot among the workers.

In its drive to combat precarious work, it also proposes that companies with workers covered by a collective agreement should be given preference when a tender for services or work is issued by government.

The Union Ħaddiema Maqgħudin (UĦM) has based its memorandum to the political parties on a report called From Labour Market Programmes to Active Labour Market Policy (ALMP). In the report it recommended the introduction of a holistic and permanent ALMP to address the limitations of the local labour market. This policy, it said, should:

  • effectively address employability issues – for example, long-term training;
  • avoid a ‘one size fits all’ approach;
  • make future employment subsidies more target-oriented;
  • be subject to revision on a five-year basis in order to take into account new ideologies.

On a practical front, it urged trade unions to make the training of workers a priority during collective bargaining. It also proposed the establishment of more childcare centres to encourage female employment.

Commentary

The employers were very critical of a GWU proposal that government tenders should be awarded to companies whose workforce is covered by a collective agreement.

The main point of divergence between the social partners is the use of COLA to make wages keep pace with inflation. On the other hand, the UĦM proposal about the setting up of more childcare centres became a point of convergence.

The leader of Malta’s Labour Party (Partit Laburista), Joseph Muscat, announced that if it was voted into office it would collaborate with the private sector to set a number of childcare centres. These would be free of charge to parents with children under the age of three. Prime Minister Gonzi said his Nationalist Party intended to include the UĦM proposals in its political manifesto.

Saviour Rizzo, Centre for Labour Studies

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