Minister Carmelo Abela highlights social dialogue as a valuable and effective means to protect workers, at ILO summit

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The saving of 25,000 jobs in Malta since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic was possible as a result of the Maltese Government’s commitment to constant consultation with the other social partners. This resulted in fast action being taken on the ground, based on the situation as it evolved, Carmelo Abela, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister (responsible, inter alia, for social dialogue as well as employment relations and work conditions), told a regional event for Europe and Central Asia of an International Labour Organization (ILO) virtual Global Summit being held to address the impact of COVID-19 on the world of work. 

The Global Summit is providing a high-profile platform for government, employer and worker representatives, and other high-level actors, to address the economic and social impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. As parts of the world start the recovery process from COVID-19, during the regional event ILO tripartite constituents of the region’s 51 countries, as well as other relevant stakeholders from across Europe and Central Asia shared their experiences and views on the methodologies their countries and regions have adopted to address the challenges brought about by this pandemic on employment and society at large. Similar viewpoints were exchanged that, for the economy to grow, the fostering of confidence and trust is crucial. In this regard, participants discussed the integrated policy response set out in the report by the ILO advocating four key pillars to fight COVID-19 being: the stimulation of the economy and employment through fiscal policies and monetary policies; supporting of enterprises, jobs and incomes through provision of financial/tax relief; the protection of workers in the workplace through the adaption of work arrangement, expanding access to paid leave, and relying on social dialogue for solutions.

Malta’s Minister responsible for work conditions intervened during a thematic session on ‘Protecting Workers in the Workplace’. The session focused on issues such as occupational safety and health, including for a safe return to work; the prevention of discrimination and exclusion; and new work arrangements, including telework and access to paid leave. Re-affirming that Malta shares the ILO’s commitment towards the protection of workers, Minister Abela said that Malta will continue to work on ratifying the ILO Convention on Violence and Harassment in the Workplace, as well as taking into consideration elements from the Centenary Declaration on the Future of Work, in particular by taking a human-centred approach to reforms related to the world of work. The Minister emphasised the importance of protecting workers in the workplace through adequate working conditions, combating precarious work, and supporting employers, including through the further strengthening of social dialogue. 

Minister Abela highlighted Malta’s efforts to protect employment by encouraging employers to implement flexible working conditions where possible and arrangements to avoid redundancies. The minister referred to Malta’s long-term vision to protect employment, “Malta always kept in view the long-term repercussions of the pandemic on the world of work, and tailored measures to provide protection for both employees and employers.” He also referred to the efforts undertaken by the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) to ensure that it operated efficiently in dealing with claims of breaches of working conditions, as well as allowing employers to implement temporary short-time working conditions to avoid redundancies. 

The only tripartite U.N. agency, since 1919 the ILO brings together governments, employers and workers of 187 member states to set labour standards, develop policies and devise programmes promoting decent work for all women and men. Once a year, it holds a global summit, discussing a particular working theme. This year, due to the pandemic, the Global Summit was organised online. The latest ILO estimates are that large-scale workplace closures around the world in response to COVID-19 have led to a reduction in hours worked of 10.7% worldwide in the second quarter of this year. That translates into the loss of 305 million jobs, calculated based on a 48-hour working week. The Asia and Pacific region was initially the worst affected but now it is the Americas, followed by Europe and Central Asia, reflecting the westward movement of the pandemic’s epicentre across the globe.