The Malta Independent 20 January 2022, Thursday

‘25,000 jobs saved through temporary change in working conditions’ – Minister Carmelo Abela

Monday, 28 December 2020, 15:05 Last update: about 2 years ago

Since March 2020 to date, some 1,000 companies have been allowed to temporarily change working conditions, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela said, adding that this was done so that the companies could be able to retain their employees. He said that around 25,000 jobs were saved.

Abela spoke during a press conference regarding the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) and its work during 2020.

Abela had said that during this period some had to make changes and even accept different working conditions temporarily, and that this was done through a certain Article in the law.

The Article states: "In exceptional cases, the employer in agreement with the employee or union representatives may provide for different conditions of employment than those specified in or under this Act as long as such agreement is a temporary measure to avoid redundancies and as long as it is approved by the Director responsible for Employment and Industrial Relations, which approval needs to be reviewed every four weeks."

Asked about what conditions were changed - Abela noted that some companies requested for their employees to be able to work "three or four times a week. The sectors are diverse - the worst hit sectors are the ones that asked for permission to have certain reductions in terms of their workers."

In what seems to be the current government mantra, Minister Abela said "with courage there is also hope. This is gifted through the vaccine and other measures, such as the ones introduced by the DIER."

Minister Abela noted that from 1 April to 14 December, 43,459 calls were received in total on free helplines 1575 and 1576, with the former being for employees and the latter for employers. These were introduced earlier this year to respond to queries related to working conditions and to get a clearer image as to what will happen in the upcoming months in terms of employment policies.

Asked by this newsroom if they are planning to keep these freephone numbers available given their success, the Minister replied in the affirmative. "These would serve well especially for general queries and those which do not require extensive attention."

A great number of emails were also received - 14,892.

Abela also noted that the department is expected to reopen in mid-January.

Investigations

From 1 January to 14 December, 882 cases were investigated.

The pandemic didn't stop investigations from taking place, Abela said, explaining that these focused on enforcing laws and to ensure they are being observed. "To mention some examples, these include investigations into when a worker doesn't receive his pay, bonuses, payslips, or possibly into the work contract itself. There could be other issues as well, such as vacation leave, sick leave, and maternity leave."

Industrial Tribunal

This year, 110 new cases were brought before the Industrial Tribunal, ranging from alleged unjustified dismissal, alleged discrimination and alleged harassment, among others. Within the same period, the Tribunal decided on 49 cases. As of 17 December 2020, the Tribunal had 311 pending cases.

Regarding the relatively high 311 pending cases, Abela said that the government is working on reducing these numbers, suggesting that an increase in workforce might help. "We want reduce the pending cases, which might be aided from an administrative point of view."

'Productivity rate increased with remote working' - Minister Carmelo Abela

Asked by this newsroom regarding updates into the process of businesses transitioning to remote working and its effects on employers and employees, the minister said that it has been a positive one.

"The digitisation process was very positive - from the public sector the practice was already there during the pandemic, as well as in parts of the private sector where possible."

He highlighted the possibility that remote working could provide positive effects even economically.

"Going forward there is certain consensus that it can be a very positive option for the government and businesses, even economically. Businesses said that productivity increased with remote working. We need to learn from this experience. At the same time it has to be a win-win situation for everyone... there needs to be agreement between employer and employee."

Asked about the 'right to disconnect', where Malta is aiming to be the first EU country to legally enforce it, Abela emphasised its importance. "We need to implement it as a principle. The person who employs you can't expect you to work 24/7."

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