Plans for Employment Law to be amended to reflect new realities – Minister Carmelo Abela

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Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela said that the government will be discussing with social partners on amendments to Malta’s Employment Laws, in order to draft a legislative framework that caters to today’s and tomorrow’s employment needs. Minister Abela was participating, together with the Director-General of the Department of Industrial and Employers Relations (DIER) Diane Vella Muscat, in a webinar organised by the Malta Chamber of SMEs on working conditions and regulations in the time of COVID-19. Throughout the session, hosted by the Chamber’s CEO, Abigail Mamo, SME representatives made various queries and raised pertinent issues, including on how to be prepared to adjust to, and operate, in a new norm.

Minister Carmelo Abela appealed to employers to keep an open channel of communication with their employees at all times, to help them understand the situation better, mitigate fears, and find alternative solutions, where required. Noting that ‘fear’ is not a legally valid reason for employees of workplaces that are reopening not to turn up for work, he stressed that employers are obliged to provide all necessary health and safety precautions at the place of work. Asked if the wage supplement will continue for those businesses that are being allowed by the government to go back in operation, he confirmed that, for the time being, the state will continue to provide financial assistance and that any revision will happen at a later stage. 

Minister Abela appealed to all employers to make an effort to give the €400 top-up over and above the €800 being provided by the government (based on a €1,200 salary), as agreed between the social partners. “If we make that extra effort, it will not only be appreciated by the government, but also by your employees,” said the Minister, while emphasising that everyone’s aim should be to protect jobs. Commenting on the progress achieved so far by the country in the fight against COVID-19, the Minister said that the success belongs to the whole nation, including employers and employees; “I am hopeful and optimistic. We have done great things together, we will overcome this together.”

The Minister, whose portfolio includes employment conditions, also commented on the future of DIER. He said that his ministry is discussing potential new services that the Department can provide in a bid to be more proactive in helping businesses fall in line with the legislative framework. The intention should be to facilitate, help, and assist businesses to become compliant, said Minister Abela. 

On her part, DIER Director-General Vella Muscat said that one of the flexible measures being adopted is the banking of hours, for which employers are being granted permission in advance. Each permit for the temporary reduction of working conditions issued by the Regulator, except for the banking of hours, will be for a duration of four weeks and will then require revisiting. She appealed to employers to reach out on helpline 1576, where a team of trained inspectors are available to guide employers through the whole process. She reassured employers that the DIER is doing its utmost to get back with replies to their queries in a period of seven days. 

In his opening remarks, Paul Abela, President of the Malta Chamber of SMEs, thanked Minister Abela for his ministry’s hard work and collaboration with the Malta Chamber of SMEs in this difficult moment, and DG Vella Muscat and her team at DIER for answering employers’ queries and clearing approvals.