The Malta Independent 18 August 2019, Sunday

Updated: First day of sick leave should be unpaid – MEA; GWU reacts

Thursday, 24 August 2017, 13:39 Last update: about 3 years ago

The Malta Employers Association is proposing that the first day of sick leave is unpaid.

In their proposals for the budget, the MEA said many companies are concerned about the increased incidence of sick leave – in particular sporadic sick leave linked to weekends.

As happens in other countries, the first day of sick leave should be unpaid and treated as a waiting day, the MEA said.

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The MEA also argues that employers are concerned about the effect of legalising marijuana on the workplace, and should the legalisation come to pass expect tangible measures to protect the workplace.

“Smoking marijuana on the job is unacceptable behaviour even if the substance were to be legalised. As with other serious offenses, it should be a cause for instant dismissal. Employers should have the right to conduct random drug tests to establish whether employees have smoked at the workplace and also to determine whether they are under the influence. This will avoid potential risks to themselves and other employees, bearing in mind that the effects of the substance may last anything between two and six hours,” the association said.

Even if there are no immediate OHS risks, companies should be free to implement policies that do not allow employees on their premises under the influence and to take any disciplinary action against employees found to be in breach of such regulations, the MEA said. “It is known that smoking marijuana is conducive to lower productivity. It also impedes memory, problem solving, balance and coordination, concentration and reaction time. The side effects of smoking marijuana may also lead to an increase in sick leave - both directly because of the properties of the substance and also indirectly due to increased absence as employees may opt to report sick to avoid reporting for work if they are still under the influence.”

The MEA also put forward its thoughts on public holidays falling on weekends, arguing that any decision to add public holidays falling on weekends to optional leave should be balanced out with compensatory measures to be discussed with employer bodies prior to implementation.

Turning to public sector employment, the MEA states that “employers in the private sector have been concerned about the exodus of employees from their companies to work in the public sector, often to be replaced with foreign workers. Gozo has been particularly affected by this phenomenon, but many companies in Malta are facing a similar situation. Government should make every effort to streamline its operations to free human resources to productive jobs in the private sector, possibly through natural wastage.”

The association argued that the process of issuing work permits has to be streamlined further and more resources allocated to Identity Malta

The MEA is also proposing that Third Country Nationals (TCNs) be allowed to work part time. “A number of them work for relatively low wages and may find it hard to make ends meet due to the high cost of rent, leading them to leave the country. Allowing them to work part-time will incentivise them to stay to offer their services in Malta.”

The MEA argues that the number of persons of trust government employs should have a limit, and that these appointments should not be perceived to be the result of political favours. “Members of parliament should not hold positions of trust. This may be in conflict with their duties in parliament. There shall be full public disclosure of contracts, remuneration conditions, including bonuses and perks, of persons occupying positions of trust. All persons occupying a position of trust with public entities and who have not been employed through a recruitment process should be subject to a periodic audit by an independent board to justify their position. The board shall include representatives from the opposition. “

As for traffic, the MEA believes government should intensify incentives for a higher take-up of electric cars through better subsidies and a wider diffusion of charging points. “The introduction of alternative public transport can alleviate traffic problems in the longer term, but better management can lead to immediate benefits."

The MEA said that there is a need for a decisive strategy for Air Malta. “It cannot operate on the existing scale with the current size of the labour force. It can only retain its employees if it increases its business, and the best hope of achieving this is through a capital injection by domestic or foreign strategic partner/s. The catch 22 situation is that there is hardly any chance of attracting a strategic partner unless the labour force is scaled down to a more manageable level. Clearly a decision needs to be taken in the coming months.”

Turning to education, the MEA states that unemployed persons and migrants should be asked to attend mandatory numeracy and literacy courses.

The MEA also believes that there is no level playing field in the retailing sector. “Many supermarket owners report that they are surviving on the merit of an increased population due to the many foreign workers in Malta and Gozo, and that they are losing market share to a retail chain that is gaining a market dominant position due to tax incentives from which they do not benefit. This state of affairs is also affecting manufacturers who produce for the domestic market as, to reach consumers, they face a serious barrier to entry. The constant flow of unchecked imports from Sicily by catamaran also needs to be addressed, as this is being detrimental to local producers and importers who face a serious competitive disadvantage as they pay VAT and other taxes on their output while the products brought over from Sicily pass through unchecked.”

Full list of proposals

In a statement, the General Workers Union said it will not accept any changes to the benefits with regard to sick leave.

The union said the MEA proposal will take the country back to the time when workers were abused.

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