Employment/Labour Law & Industrial Relations

Employment conditions in Malta during the COVID-19 pandemic – Know Your Rights

As a temporary measure due to the COVID-19 pandemic, employers may seek permission from the Director General of Industrial & Employment Relations to temporarily change the applicable conditions of work their workforce. The Director General of Industrial & Employment Relations, however, may onlyaccede to such a request if all employees, or their representatives, agree to the proposed changes, in terms of Article 42 of the Employment & Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 452 of the Laws of Malta.

Employers employing 50 employees or more shall undertake the practical arrangements required to allow employees to exercise their right to adequate information and consultation. If there is no recognised trade union, employers are to ensure that the information and consultation of employees is carried out through an elected or appointed representative of the employees, and this by means of a secret ballot from amongst all employees.

Employers may resort to ‘forced leave’ so long as they provide a written justification to their employees explaining the reason for the application of such forced leave. Such written statement is to be given to employees before the forced leave is applied.

Except in those situations expressly stipulated within the Employment & Industrial Relations Act (Chapter 452 of the Laws of Malta), employers are not allowed to make any wages deductions nor enter into any contract with their employees authorising any deductions to be made from the wages to be paid to the said employees.

In such times of economical distress, the weekly working hours of the employees may be reduced as long as the affected employees and/or their representatives agree with the proposed reduction of their working hours.Nevertheless, it is important to note that a full-time basis contract of employment cannot be transformed into a part-time contract.

All those employees whose employment becomes terminated due to redundancy ought to be re-engaged by the employer if the post they formerly occupied becomes available once again within a period of one year from the date of termination of employment due to redundancy.

If a place of work has temporarily ceased to operate due to enforcement by the Government or due to a reduction in business, the employer is to place employees on forced leave prior to proceeding to unpaid leave once the vacation leave entitlement has been exhausted. During such periods of unpaid leave due to business closure, vacation leave entitlement shall not accrue, irrespective of whether the employer has applied for the Covid-19 Wage Supplement Government Grant to pay employees during the time of business closure.

Quarantine-leave is only to be given to employees who are undergoing obligatory quarantine as advised by the Superintendent of Public Health. If an employee is obliged to undergo quarantine on more than one occasion,the said employee shall be eligible for quarantine-leave for each instance that he or she is obliged to undergo quarantine. Such leave is to be given in addition to vacation leave and is not to be construed as part of vacation leave.

Recent Amendments in Legislation having a bearing on Employment

  1. Act LVIII of 2020 – Employment and IndustrialRelations (Amendment) Act, 2020

Act LVIII of 2020 amends the definition of “unfair dismissal” in the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (Chapter 452 of the Laws of Malta) to include the termination of employment of an employee engaged on a fixed term contract, provided that the expiration of such contract shall not be deemed a termination of the contract in such context. Should one of the parties terminate the contract prior to its expiration, such party would be liable to pay half of the wages that would have accrued in respect to the remaining time, provided that there was no ‘good and sufficient cause’ for such termination.

The abovementioned amendments have also made it possible for the Industrial Tribunal to determine cases relating to the early termination of a fixed contract, as it was given jurisdiction to determine cases of unfair dismissal of employees engaged by virtue of a fixed term contract.

  1. Legal Notices 467, 468 and 469 of 2020

Legal Notices 467, 468 and 469 of 2020 regulate the amendment to the minimum wages and the increase to cost of living wage increase for 2021, as illustrated below.

Legal Notice 467 of 2020 establishes tat as from 1st January 2021, the national minimum wage per week shall be as follows:

  1. For employees age 18 and over – €181.08
  2. For employees age 17 years – €174.30
  3. For employees under 17 years of age – €171.46

Legal Notice 468 of 2020 lays down that the wages of whole-time employees shall be increased by €1.75 weekly reflecting the cost of living increase as from 1st January 2021.

Legal Notice 469 of 2020 amends the minimum wages in sector-specific Wage regulation Orders, reflecting the cost of living increase, also applicable from 1st January 2021.

  1. Annual Vacation Leave Entitlement

Each year, the paid vacation leave entitlement will fluctuate depending on the national and or public holidays which fall on a weekend. Therefore, in 2021, the leave entitlement shall be that of 27 days, in 2022 the leave entitlement shall be of 28 days and in 2023 the leave entitlement shall be of 26 days. In this regard, the Government has announced that the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act (Chapter 252 of the Laws of Malta) shall be amended, yet these amendments are yet to be published.

In previous years, amendments were being made yearly to the Organisation of Working Time Regulations (S.L. 452.87) whereby an additional 8 hours of leave were added in 2018, 2019 and 2020; and employees were entitled to 27 days of leave by 2020, irrespective of the number of national or public holidays that fell on a weekend. However, with the proposed amendments to the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act,it is expected that such amendments to the Organisation of Working Time Regulations will be reversed.

Disclaimer: This article is not to be considered as legal advice, and is not to be acted on as such. Should you require further information or legal assistance, please do not hesitate to contact us on info@emd.com.mt

 

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