Industrial relations in the public sector ─ Malta

  • Observatory: EurWORK
  • Topic:
  • Published on: 10 December 2008


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This report presents an overview of industrial relations in the central government and public sector in Malta.

1. Structure of the public sector in your country

Please provide:

The definition of the public sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered (e.g. central government, local government, health sector, education, others)?

The most commonly used definition of the public sector is that given by the National Statistics Office (NSO). This organisation subdivides the public sector into three broad categories, namely public majority organisations, government entities classified as independent statutory bodies and government departments and ministries.

The term public majority organisation includes profit making organisations in which the government is the major share holder. On the other hand organisations holding an independent statute are organisations set up by the government which lie outside of the realm of the civil service. As a result of this particular set up, independent statutory bodies have their own board of directors, even though most directors are appointed by the government.

The definition of the central government sector commonly accepted and used in your country. What are the different sectors covered?

Organisations forming part of the central government are classified by the NSO as government departments or ministries. These organisations fall under the jurisdiction of a minister or a parliamentary secretary appointed by the Prime Minister. In Malta, the following sectors fall under this classification: Office of the Prime Minister; Ministry of Finance; Ministry of Justice and Home Affairs; Ministry of Education, Youth and Employment; Ministry for Tourism and Culture; Ministry for Competitiveness and Communication; Ministry for Resource and Infrastructure; Ministry for Gozo; Ministry of Health, the Elderly and Community Care; Ministry of Investment, Industry and Information Technology; Ministry for Rural Affairs and the Environment; Ministry for Urban Development and Roads; Ministry for the Family and Social Solidarity; and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The following data:

Table 1. Employment and population
Year Central government * Public sector ** Total Employees (all economy) Total Population
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women




























* Government Departments and Ministries

** Public Majority Organisations, Independent Statutory Bodies, Government Departments and Ministries

Source – Annual data LFS 2003-2005

Data is not available

Table 2. Central government employment
Year Open-ended of which part-time Fixed-term of which part-time
Men Women Men Women Men Women Men Women




























Please clarify whether central government employment includes: a) school teachers; b) NHS employees; c) armed forces and police; other non-ministerial employees. If data include these groups of employees, please indicate their numbers (or estimated share).

* Under-represented data

Source – Annual data LFS 2003-2005

Please indicate whether fixed-term employment and part-time work are typical of certain organisational areas in the central government sector (for instance, top job positions rather than lower-level occupations) or group of workers (such as employees approaching retirement, new recruits, women, technicians, and the like)

Fixed term-contracts are commonly found in managerial jobs in the central government sector.

Please indicate the presence and quantitative relevance of non-standard employment relationships in the central government sector, and especially of temporary agency work and service contracts with individuals or other non-standard contractual relationships that are important in your country.

While no statistical figures are available, non-standard employment relationships in the central government are rather rare. Non-standard employment relationships such as temporary agency work tend not to be contemplated by Maltese law.

2. Employment regulation

1. Public sector vs. private sector.

Do (certain) public sector employees enjoy special status compared with private sector employees?

As a general rule, employees in both the private and public sector are covered by the provisions of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA) of 2002. This act stipulates that employees in the same class of employment are entitled to the same rate of remuneration for work of equal value. This law shall hold unless other and more advantageous conditions are agreed between the organisation and the trade union in the process of drawing up a company collective agreement.

Moreover, national standard orders and sectoral regulation orders, as issued by government are applicable to all employees both in private and public organisations.

Usually, collective agreements for the private sector follow the provisions laid down in EIRA, and hardly ever go beyond the standards set in this act. On the other hand, the collective agreements of public sector employees tend to include benefits that go beyond the provisions of this act, especially with regards to family friendly measures.

A rare aspect of work in which private sector employees enjoy better conditions than public sector ones concerns fixed term contracts. According to EIRA, within the private sector, an employee retained in employment for a period of more then twelve working days, after his/ her fixed term contract has expired shall be deemed to be retained on an indefinite period contract. This clause does not apply to public sector employees, in which case the government may repeatedly renew fixed term contracts for its employees.

Do all public sector employees have the same status or are there differences between different groups of employees, as, for instance, between civil servants, clerical employees and workers?

Within the public sector there exist categories of employees who, due to the position they occupy, are granted special status. In particular this condition affects employees’ right of association in a trade union and their right to strike. Provisions concerning employees to whom the right to trade union association is precluded are given in article 42 of the Maltese Constitution. EIRA Article 67 states that the holders of an office in the public sector which may be required to represent or advise the government may not be trade union members.

Furthermore special status is granted to public officers in scale four or higher. In this case employee pension are not capped to 2/3 of the fixed rate set by the authorities at Lm 6700. This means that employees retiring from scale four positions will receive 2/3 of their actual wage at the end of their career as pension.

Special status is also granted to employees who have been in the civil service from before 1979. These are entitled to take early retirement and to commute part of their pension in a lump sum.

If public sector employees enjoy special status(es), please specify:

The distinctive features of (each) public sector employment status, highlighting the main differences with the status of private sector employees (and, if relevant, among the various public sector statuses). In particular, indicate whether such differences involve the rights: i) of association; ii) to bargaining collectively; iii) to strike.

The requirements that must be fulfilled to gain (each) such special status(es): i) pass a public examination; ii) achieve a certain tenure in the position; c) in terms of nationality; d) other specific conditions.

Union membership according to the Maltese Constitution is precluded to workers if reasonably required:

  • In the interest of defence, public safety, public order, public morality or decency or for the benefit of public health
  • For the purpose of protecting the right of freedom of other persons

2. Central government. Please indicate whether and how this special employment status regulation applies to central government employees.

Some central government employees (including the police force, the army and some other public servants) cannot join trade unions and cannot strike.

Please fill in the following table:

Kindly note that data is not available.

Table 3. Status of central government employees
Year Total employees Status A (please replace by the name of the status) Status B (please replace by the name of the status) Status C (please replace by the name of the status)
Men Women Men Women Men Women







N.B.: add further columns if required

Please indicate the elements of the employment relationship of central government employees which are regulated by:

Specific legislation.

Regulations concerning the employment of public sector employees are governed by the EstaCode, a series of circulars issued by the Office of the Prime Minister and enforced by the Public Services Commission (PSC). This organisation derives its authority and function from the Maltese Constitution. The core functions of PSC relate to the appointment of staff within the public service and disciplinary actions against violation of the EstaCode. The PSC functions related to appointments consist of:

  • Making recommendations to the state with regard to appointments in the public service;
  • Approving calls for application;
  • Approving selection methods and criteria;
  • Approving reports submitted by selection board;
  • Approving and publishing reports related to selection exercises;
  • Making recommendations concerning: removal from office/ termination of appointment and the extension of the probation period.

The PSC functions related to disciplinary action deal with:

  • Making recommendations for the suspension and interdiction of public officers charged with serious offences;
  • Recommending penalties, including the dismissal of employees found guilty of criminal offences;
  • Making recommendations concerning the forfeiture of money withheld from the salary of public sector employees during a period of interdiction;
  • Hearing appeals from civil servants against decisions made by heads of department.

Collective bargaining.

The issues discussed and negotiated in the current public sector collective agreement are based on the recognition of the importance of Government’s objectives relating to its socio economic plans that emphasise elements such as quality and productivity, social cohesion and human capital development. The collective agreement includes:

  • Initiatives to increase the female participation in the labour market;
  • Initiatives aimed at facilitating the participation of people with a disability to the labour market;
  • The introduction of family friendly measures particularly in relation to the utilisation of unpaid leave and reduced hours;
  • Provisions to facilitate the implementation of existing flexibility measures;
  • The need for staff development and multi-skilling initiatives;
  • The introduction of mechanical and/ or electronic systems for the purpose of securing, recording attendance, salary computation and audit trail;
  • Paid vacation and sick leave;
  • Employee classification and grading structure;
  • The different salary scales.

In your answer, please refer specifically to elements such as recruitment procedures, pay (see also below), working time, work organisation, job security and employment protections, social security.

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reform of employment regulation in the central government sector since the 1990s has affected:

The status of workers.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

The most significant change in Maltese employment regulation is the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA) (2002). This act consolidates and simultaneously amends the Conditions of Employment Act of 1952 and the Industrial Relations Act of 1977. It seeks: to address the gender and skill gap; to overhaul features included in the former conditions of employment act; to upgrade features included in the former industrial relations act; to upgrade Malta’s ratification of international conventions; to harmonise national legislation with the “acquis comunitaire”; to recognise professional conciliators distinct from the department of employment and industrial relations; and to acknowledge the function of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD).

Please, briefly illustrate whether and how reorganisation and restructuring in the central government sector since the 1990s, for instance through the establishment of special agencies or the separation of specific bodies and offices, has affected:

The status of significant groups of workers.

A “Public Sector Reform Commission” was appointed in 1988 to lead a public sector reform program. Among the first changes carried out by the Commission, was the introduction of a system of three year renewable contractual appointments for senior management positions. This placed a greater burden over persons occupying managerial positions in the civil service as they experienced increased accountability. Another major change carried out by the Commission was that of minimising the importance of seniority as a criterion for promotion thereby placing greater emphasis on performance.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining in regulating the various dimensions of the employment relationships.

The balance between legislation and collective bargaining was refined with the introduction of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA) (2002). EIRA set up the Employment Relations Board which discusses issues concerning labour legislation and the establishment of the national minimum conditions of employment. The Board comprises four representatives of employees and four representatives of employers, together with four members appointed by government.

Other relevant industrial relations dimensions, such as representation, conflict and its regulation.

See the answer to the previous question.

3. Pay levels and determination

Please indicate:

The presence and relevance of collective bargaining on pay in the central government sector.

The issue of pay in the central government sector is determined through collective bargaining.

The number and scope of bargaining units on pay within the central government sector.

In Malta there exists a single Central Government Unit (CBU) housed within the Ministry of Finance. This unit takes part in the negotiation of collective agreements within the central government and within government owned organisations and entities.

Do minimum wage levels vary across the different bargaining units within the central government sector? Are there common minimum wage levels in the whole public sector?

Minimum wage levels are common to both the public and private sector. These are set by the government and modifications are made depending on the Cost of living Allowance (COLA) which is based on the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Is there a single job classification system for the whole central government sector?

Yes. Employees in the public sector are categorised according to a single classification consisting of twenty salary scales. Within this classification, scale one constitutes the highest rate of pay, while scale 20 denotes the lowest rate of pay. Remuneration tied to the different salary scales is revised during the negotiation of each collective agreement.

Wage levels and wage increases in the central government and private sectors since 2000 (table 4). If there are great variations across bargaining units within the central government sector, please briefly illustrate such variations.

The current collective agreement came into force in January 2005, and has a six year term. This collective agreement incorporates a salary increase for all scales, and further salary increases are anticipated up to the expiry of the collective agreement in December 2010. The collective agreement incorporates the new salary levels, subdivided by the different salary scales. These figures also include an additional cost of living allowance (COLA). All employees in both the public and private sector are entitled to receive the statutory annual wage increase defined as COLA which is based on the indexation of the Retail Price Index (RPI).

Table 4. Central government and private sector: wage levels and increases since 2000 (average)
Year Central government Private sector
Level Lm Annual increase % Level Lm Annual increase %































Data was adapted from Labour Force Surveys

The presence and relevance of variable performance-related pay in the central government sector. Please indicate whether variable pay is particularly relevant in certain bargaining units or organisational areas (for instance, top job positions, officers, or other occupations).

Only public officers employed in scale four or higher receive a performance related bonus added to their pay. In all other cases, pay levels are usually standardised according to the salary scales mentioned earlier.

Are there any form of “benchmarking” of wage dynamics in the central government sector with other public sectors or with the private sector? If yes, are industrial relations actors involved in such benchmarking activity?

No formal benchmarking exercises are known to exist.

4. Union Presence and density

Please provide information on:

Trade unions which are present in the various bargaining units of the central government sector, their number, affiliation, representational domain, membership, and the sectoral union density (data by gender). Please fill in the following table:

Table 5. Trade unions
Union Affiliation Representational domain (group of workers represented) Bargaining units where the trade union is present Membership
Women Men

General Workers Union (GWU)

European Transport Federation (ETF)

European Federation of Trade Unions in the Food, Agriculture and Tourism Sectors and Allied Branches (EFFAT)

European Federation of Public Service Unions (EPSU)

European Trade Union Federation – Textile Clothing and Leather (ETUF – TCL)

European Metalworkers’ Federation (EMF)

European Mine, Chemical and Energy Workers’ Federation (EMCEF)

European Union Network (UNI Europa)

European Workers’ Education Association (EURO WEA)

Federation of Europe Retired Personnel Association (FERPA)

European Trade Union Confederation – Youth Section (ETUC – Youth)

International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF)

International Union of Food, Agricultural, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers’ Association (IUF)

International Federation of Building and Woodworkers (IFBWW)

Public Service International (PSI)

International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers’ Federation (ITGLWF)

International Metalworkers’ Federation (IMF)

International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mining and General Workers’ Union (ICEM)

Union Network International (UNI)

International Federation of Workers’ Education (IFWEA)

The GWU is a general union and it represents all groups of workers (ranging from professionals to unskilled workers).


Total membership within the Public Enterprise Section is 6,184. (Data Subdivided by gender is not available)

Union of United Workers (Union Haddiema Maghqudin, UHM)

Confederation of Malta Trade Unions (CMTU)

National Council of Women

Malta Council of the European Movement

European Organisation of Public Service Employees (EUROFEDOP)

European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC)

European Federation of Retired and Elderly Persons (FERPA)

International Federation of Employees in the Public Service (INFEDOP)

World Confederation of Labour (WCL)

Commonwealth Trade Union Council (CTUC)

The UHM is a general union and it represents all groups of workers (ranging from professionals to unskilled workers).


Total number of employees in the Government Employees Section (Civil Service) = 5,832 (data divided by gender is not available)

Malta Union of Teachers (MUT)

Confederation of Malta Trade unions (CMTU)

World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession (WCOTP)

International Federation of Free Teachers’ Unions (IFTA)

International Federation of Secondary Teachers’ Association (FIPESO)

World Union of Catholic Teachers (UMFC)

International Association of University Professors and Lecturers (IAUPL)

European Trade Union Committee for Education (ETUCE).

Represents teachers in State Schools, Church Schools and Independent (private) Schools




Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses (MUMN)

Public Services International (PSI)

International Council of Nurses (ICN)

Commonwealth Nurses Federation (CNF)

European Forum for Nurses and Midwives in the World Health Organisation

Standing Committee of Nurses of the European Union (PCN)

Represents the majority of registered nurses and midwives in Malta and negotiates collective agreements on their behalf.




Malta Union of Professional Psychologists


Represents psychologists










Sectoral union density






N.B.: add further rows if required

Please provide information on the diffusion within the central government sector of craft unions, professional unions, or unions which are not affiliated to peak associations

Apart from the GWU, the following unions have members within the central government and do not form part of the Confederation of Malta Trade Union.

  • Malta Chamber of Pharmacists
  • The Medical Association of Malta
  • The Union of Assistant Chemists
  • Union of Architects and Engineers within the Public Service
  • Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses
  • Association of Legal Professionals within the Office of the Attorney General
  • Maltese Psychological Association
  • Maltese Association of Specialists in Psychiatry

Are there any formal procedures or rules which aim to assess the representativeness of the various unions? If yes, please, briefly illustrate the content of such procedures or rules. Do these procedures or rules affect the access of the various unions to trade union prerogatives or to the bargaining table? If yes, please specify such effects and any possible limitations.

For a union to be able to carry out collective bargaining, it needs to represent 50% plus 1 of the employees in the specific category of work and/ or sector.

5. Employer representation

Please provide information on:

Who does represent the central government at the bargaining table? Are there specific independent bodies, such as agencies, or negotiations are carried out under the responsibility of political actors, such as ministers?

Collective agreements in government departments and ministries are the responsibility of the principal permanent secretary, the permanent secretary within the Ministry of Finance and the permanent secretary within the Office of the Prime Minister. The Collective Bargaining Unit (CBU) within the Ministry of Finance is also involved to ensure that collective agreements are in line with the financial provisions of the state.

If negotiations are carried out by specific independent bodies, please indicate how they are organised. In particular, specify whether there are guidelines or other directives set by political actors and how the tasks of the independent bodies are carried out. For instance, negotiations have to follow specific stages?

Not applicable.

If negotiations are carried under the direct responsibility of political actors, please indicate how they are organised. For instance, do negotiations take place under the responsibility of a single ministry, for instance the Finance Ministry, or are they carried out by a delegation or in a different way?

Not applicable.

Do collective agreements in the central government sector have to pass an ex-post “validation” procedure, for instance to certify their compliance with budget constraints? If present, please briefly illustrate such procedure and the consequences of failure to pass it.

All collective agreements signed on behalf of employees within the public sector (including the central government) have to be inspected and accepted by the CBU. This organisation issues policies and standards which negotiating bodies are obliged to follow in the course of industrial negotiations. Furthermore if the CBU disagrees with one or more of the clauses mentioned in a collective agreement the unit has the authority to stop the signature of a collective agreement.

6. Collective bargaining and conflict in central government

Please provide information on:

The structure of collective bargaining and, in particular, the number and scope of bargaining units, both at central (national) and decentralised (workplace and territorial) levels.

See the answer to question 5.1. Only one collective agreement is signed in the central government.

The duration of agreements and the presence and content of peace obligations.

The current collective agreement signed on behalf of the Maltese Civil Service encompassing all government departments and ministries covers a period of six years (from 1st January 2005 to 31 December 2010). However, the parties shall commence discussing non financial issues relating to the agreement in March 2007 and any changes in the agreement shall come into effect on 1 January 2008.

The main issues of collective bargaining by referring to the latest renewals.

An interview with the UHM section secretary revealed that during the negotiation of the last collective agreement of the central government workers, the negotiation of wage adjustments was the most contentious issue. The agreement established higher working conditions that those normally found in the private sector and related to issues including:

  • unpaid parental leave and reduced hours of work;
  • flexi time and reduced hours;
  • vacation leave;
  • sick leave.
  1. Levels and recent trends in conflict.

The industrial relations climate in Malta is rather calm. There have been relatively little industrial disputes in the past years. While more industrial disputes involve the public sector (including the central government) than private enterprise, disputes are often solved rather quickly.

The presence and main features of forms of regulation of labour conflict and collective dispute resolution procedures. Please indicate whether such rules are specific to the central government sector, or apply to the whole public sector, or are general and cover both public and private sectors.

The main legal framework regulating industrial disputes is the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA) (2002). The Department of Industrial and Employment (DIER) Relations is entrusted with facilitating the resolution of labour conflicts and collective disputes in both government and private sectors. Whenever a trade union files an industrial dispute it is obliged by law to notify the DIER of its decision. Similar rules exist for both public (including central government) and private sectors.

7. Commentary by the NC


Specify the main issues on the agenda of industrial relations in the central government sector in your country.

Over the past years, the government embarked on a restructuring process intended to reduce public expenses, by, among others, increasing the effectiveness of the central government and reducing the number of employees through natural wastage. Wages are probably the most important issue on the agenda of industrial relations in the central government. Unions are not only experiencing difficulties in requesting higher wages, but are also often faced with a situation where their members get lower wages due to reduced overtime and other changes in work practices. Government’s increasing demands for task flexibility from its civil servants is another issue on the agenda.

Cover any further issues which are relevant in your country but have not been covered by previous questions.Provide your own comments on industrial relations in the central government sector in your country.

Trade unions have traditionally been stronger in central government than in private enterprises. In fact, the central government sections within the two general unions (GWU and UHM) are among the largest sections they have. High membership levels and insulation from the market forces have given unions leverage to regularly increase their demands and, in the process, improving considerably the working conditions of workers. The traditional job security in the central government has helped unions to carry out more assertive bargaining. This is also reflected in more industrial action taking place in the central government (and the rest of the public sector) than in the private sector. However, the more business-like approach that the central government has taken in the last years together with the possibility of privatisation and outsourcing is diminishing the bargaining power of the unions who are rethinking their goals and strategies.

Manwel Debono, University of Malta

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