The Malta Independent 21 January 2021, Thursday

Unions, employers attribute 2021 annual leave confusion to conflicting information by government

Karl Azzopardi Sunday, 10 January 2021, 09:30 Last update: about 10 days ago

Unions representing workers and employers contacted by this newsroom attribute the confusion that ensued about the number of vacation leave days for 2021 to conflicting information given by the government in the aftermath of the budget presented in October.

Last October, former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna delivered his last budget speech in which he mentioned the addition of a day of leave to compensate for public holidays that fall on the weekend.

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The English version of the speech, states the following: “Mr Speaker, as we have done in preceding budgets, in today’s budget we are continuing to implement our electoral promise of giving back, as vacation leave, the public holidays falling on a weekend, which had been taken away from employees during previous administrations. Accordingly, in 2021 employees’ vacation leave entitlement will once again be increased by an additional day. This is another measure which will further enhance the quality of life of all our families.”

This led many to believe that, in 2021, workers will have 28 days of leave – the 27 they were entitled to, plus the extra day named in the budget.

The government had then issued a statement in which it said that the announcement of an additional day of leave in the 2021 budget actually referred to an amendment to the National Holidays and Other Public Holidays Act (Cap 252) that the Minister in the Office of Prime Minister Carmelo Abela had tabled which will count national or public holidays that fall on weekends as additional vacation leave days, and reverse what a Nationalist government had done in 2005.

Many believed that three extra days will be added to the 28, for a total of 31 (1 May, 15 August and 25 December fall on a weekend this year).

But this is not so.

Information released on the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) website indicates that the amount of leave for 2021 will be the basic 24 days plus the three extra days for public holidays falling on a weekend.

The basic number of leave days remains at 24 (192 hours), plus the extra three days for public holidays falling on weekend. So, it will not be 31 days of leave this year, but 27.

The website indicates that in 2021, an employee with a 40-hour working week is entitled to 216 hours of paid annual leave - 192 hours (or 24 days) basic leave entitlement + 24 hours in lieu of the three public holidays that fall on weekends.
In 2022, an employee with a 40-hour working week is entitled to 224 hours of paid annual leave (the basic 192 hours and the extra 32 hours in lieu of the four public holidays that will fall on weekends) while in 2023 they are entitled to 208 hours of paid annual leave (the basic 192 hours and an extra 16 in lieu of the two public holidays that fall on weekends.)

The Malta Independent spoke with the General Workers’ Union (GWU), the UĦM – Voice of the Workers and the Malta Employers Association (MEA) to get their perspective on the situation.

 

‘Budget speech referred to an additional day of leave while authorities were opting for the full reinstatement of the legal provision’ – GWU

Secretary General Josef Bugeja believes that the confusion stemmed from the fact that the budget speech referred to an additional day of leave while the authorities were opting for the full reinstatement of the legal provision.

He explained that before the last election, the GWU had proposed to both political parties for the full reinstatement of the provision as per law for all Public/National Holidays which fall on a weekend after they were removed by the Nationalist government.

Despite protesting locally and winning a complaint with the International Labour Organisation, the government never took action. However, in 2017, the current Labour government accepted the proposal and included it in the electoral manifesto. It was then agreed that it will be introduced gradually, and the government would reinstate the provision in Malta’s Labour Law.

Bugeja remarked that during the Budget 2021 speech most of its members were either waiting for another additional day or the full reinstatement of the clause and following the announcement it informed its members that an additional day of leave will be added, while the DEIR portal was saying something different.

“At the beginning everyone was confused about the situation as our members were receiving mixed messages but once the issue was clarified by the authorities, that is the new amendment will be introduced immediately, the situation was explained and clarified. This was not just a win for the GWU, our members but for all workers.”

‘Conflicting versions given by government in aftermath of 2021 Budget speech fuelled confusion’ – UĦM

From its end, the UĦM – Voice of the Workers said that the announcement was no news at all, “as it was in line with the pledge made on page 33 of the Labour Party’s 2017 general election manifesto.”

Secretary General Josef Vella confirmed that “the conflicting versions given by the government in the aftermath of the 2021 Budget speech have fuelled confusion among workers, employers and departmental administrations.”

Vella explained that Scicluna was clear and categorical in saying that workers would be given an extra day of leave during his speech. “However, government subsequently made a U-turn saying this would not apply for 2021. Yet, no correction to the Budget speech has been ever issued to date. Confusion also stemmed from the different interpretation given by the DIER website.”

Asked if the Union itself was puzzled by the announcement, Vella said that the UĦM has been seeking a clarification ever since and if need be the government issue a correction to the budget speech, but the government’s response was to declare that no additional day of leave would be given in 2021.

“Moreover, UĦM made a formal request with Minister Carmelo Abela who is responsible for industrial relations and social dialogue to clarify the matter. To date UĦM received no reply.”

‘Confusion rooted in the way budget speech was worded’ – MEA

MEA director general Joe Farrugia explained that this is an old story that has been a tug-of-war situation since the time that this work condition was removed.

“There were employers who believed that there were already a lot of public holidays leave while, on the other hand, employees felt that they were robbed from a condition of work. This is an issue of competitiveness and productivity since everyone enjoys an extra leave, but one has to see if the economy affords it.”

He also noted that the Labour government had already promised that it will be bringing back the system in previous years and that after it was announced again during the speech for the 2021 budget, employees started asking their employers for the meaning behind it.

“This is why there was confusion. It was rooted from the way it was worded in the budget as there was no mention of how it will be introduced and implemented. What happened then was that the information was released on the DIER website which showed that there would be no change from last year.”

 

 

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