Malta: Developments in working life – Q1 2016

Proposed changes in the composition of the Industrial Tribunal and the renewal of the collective agreement at Air Malta 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 2016. 

Composition of the Industrial Tribunal

A dominant topic during the first quarter of 2016 has been the reform of the Industrial Tribunal following a ruling by the Court of Appeals that confirmed the legal provisions for the appointment of tribunal members are unconstitutional. While the government has been planning to make the necessary reforms, the social partners and the opposition party have made their own proposals. The main sticking point is the appointment of the chair. One of the proposals made by the Malta Workers’ Union (UHM), and backed by the opposition party, is that the chair should be a magistrate. However, the Ministry for Social Dialogue is proposing that the chair should be appointed following consultation with the Employment Relations Board, which is a tripartite institution. While a magistrate as a chair, enjoying security of tenure, could offer a guarantee of impartiality, the government is concerned that labour-related cases may get bogged down in the overburdened civil courts and that the more practical handling of these issues at core level will be lost.

Renewing the Air Malta collective agreement 

The other prominent issue in this quarter has been the renewal of the collective agreement at Air Malta, the national airline. This enterprise has been going through a restructuring exercise, monitored by the European Commission, since 2011. As the deadline for its solvency has elapsed, the Maltese government has been seeking a strategic partner to ensure its viability. The employees have also been clamouring for the renewal of their collective agreement. Following an industrial dispute registered by the General Workers' Union (GWU), the three other unions representing the cabin crew, the pilots and the engineers joined the dispute. The government, adopting a conciliatory approach, appointed a former president of Malta to act as a facilitator between the four trade unions and the government.

Commentary

Air Malta is vital for the sustainability of the tourism sector, which is one of the mainstays of the Maltese economy. The government is heavily involved in this issue both as a policymaker, to make the business economically viable, and as the owner, to ensure harmonious industrial relations. Under pressure from the deadline set by the Commission for Air Malta, the government will shortly announce the strategic partner that will purchase a minority share in the company. According to the Maltese government, this purchase will make the company economically viable. Such an accord will pave the way for signing the collective agreement with the four trade unions representing the airline’s various categories of employees.

As for the Industrial Tribunal, once the proposals made by the Minister for Social Dialogue, Helena Dalli, are discussed and endorsed by the Employment Relations Board, they will be presented as amendments to the Employment and Industrial Relations Act 2002 to be approved by parliament.

 

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