The Malta Independent 21 January 2021, Thursday

Restoration of normality depends on spread of the virus – UHM

Giuseppe Attard Tuesday, 12 January 2021, 08:14 Last update: about 7 days ago

The restoration of ‘normality’ largely depends on the spread of the virus, the UHM – Voice of the Workers told The Malta Independent.

The union was responding to a question posed by this newsroom about the temporary agreements made by some companies, whereby they changed the working conditions of employees in order to avoid redundancies. It was asked whether it can estimate when such conditions will return back to normal.

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The union said that unless there is a significant decline in the number of active cases - which would lead to the lifting of certain restrictions such as those on travel, the entertainment industry and the organisation of mass events – these economic sectors will not be in a position to start their road to recovery.

Asked the same question, the General Workers’ Union (GWU) said that every workplace in which there are GWU members has returned to normal operation, apart from those in the hospitality sector and aviation industry.

Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic, many companies sought to enact a particular legal clause which gave power to employers so that, in exceptional cases such as a pandemic, they can reach temporary agreements with their employees that would change their working conditions. The agreements were made to avoid redundancies. These changes, by law, have to be revised every four weeks and the temporary measures are to be removed as soon as is possible by the affected company.

Between March and December 2020, Some 1,000 companies had been allowed to temporarily change working conditions, Minister within the Office of the Prime Minister Carmelo Abela had said last month, 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. Asked about what conditions were changed - Abela had given an example, and said that some companies requested for their employees to be able to work "three or four times a week.”

Asked which sectors made most use of these temporary agreements, the UHM – Voice of the Workers said that “the aviation, tourism, entertainment, and media sectors, especially those whose revenue depends on advertising, were the most hit economic sectors. The impact varied from reduced hours of work, temporary suspension of certain benefits and bonuses such as Sunday premium rates. These ultimately resulted in a significant drop in the workers’ take-home pay.”

The GWU, in response to the same question, highlighted that each sector was affected differently and the impact varied. “Some sectors were ordered to shut down and this had a ripple effect on their supply of services. The Sectors most hit were the hospitality, food and entertainment sectors and all ancillary services. Aviation, logistics, post, maritime and manufacturing were also affected. Practically all sectors were affected but to different degree.”

The GWU said that Some industries did continue on as normal and some had a surge in demand for their services. “Gradually most sectors begin to return to normal operation.”  

“Apart from those industries that were ordered to shut down, thus entitled to the Covid Wage supplement, other industries had saw reduction in other terms.”

“In most cases the reduction made was to bring the whole operation down to four-day-week. The fifth day was partially paid by the Government. In some cases where the GWU is the sole recognised union, other arrangements were adopted like the utilisation of vacation leave and the banking of hours.”

The Malta Independent asked the unions to detail which sectors are still making use of such temporary agreements.

The UHM said that, according to the latest statistics issued by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, there are still around 200 companies whose workers have had their employment conditions temporarily reduced to minimise the risk of redundancies.

The GWU said: “Most sectors returned to full operation, except for those in the hospitality, aviation, entertainment sectors and ancillary services. In 2020, Malta saw a drop of 34,000 flights, so you can imagine the devastating effect on the tourism industry.”

Asked whether they believe that Malta will go back to business as usual by May, as Prime Minister Robert Abela hopes, the UHM said no.

On the other hand, the GWU said: “I believe that as Nation we can reach that target, but it also depends on other countries and how advanced they are in the vaccination process. Since we have an open economy and due to globalisation, we also depend on other Nations. I believe that as a country we will be open, hopefully returning to a new normal, but economic sectors like tourism will depend on other countries.”

 

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