The Malta Independent 3 March 2024, Sunday
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2018 legal notice on equal pay for temping agency workers never enforced – PN MP

Sabrina Zammit Sunday, 17 September 2023, 09:30 Last update: about 7 months ago

A legal notice published on 10 August 2018 which allows “equal pay for equal jobs” for temporary workers after four weeks of performing the same job, was never included as part of the main regulations covering temporary agency workers, PN spokesperson for Employment Ivan Castillo said.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, Castillo said that although legal notice 272 of 2018 is technically considered as law since its publication date, it was never included or referred to in the temporary agency workers’ regulations, which means that anyone looking them up will not get to know about the legal notice.

Castillo said that over the last five years, temporary agency workers who qualified for equal pay have been denied it based on the failure to include the legal notice as part of the law.

Earlier this month Prime Minister Robert Abela announced legal reforms to clamp down on temporary work agencies, saying that “new standards are needed as the labour market has evolved”. He also said that such regulations are in the final stages of being drawn up.

The planned legal reform comes as a reaction to public uproar following a sharp increase in population, said Castillo, adding that this problem is a result of the economic plan based on population growth which was first implemented under former Labour Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, and continued by Abela.

Back in June, when asked by this newsroom, Muscat had denied that his government’s economic model was based on population growth, which in turn creates cheap labour. The plan, he had said, was based on creating economic activity.

Castillo however pointed out that the government, under Muscat, ironically realised this problem and in 2018 had issued legal notice 272, which was aimed to amend the temporary agency workers regulations of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act.

With the said amendment, the law was to be corrected and give temporary agency workers, which are mostly non-EU workers, the right to equal pay, after four weeks of filling the supposedly “temporary role”.

Castillo said that since there were no “real changes” in the law, temporary agency workers are not benefitting from such right as the law states that if the assigned job lasts less than 14 weeks, such right is not guaranteed.

Castillo said that despite this, if the first temporary agency worker is replaced by another temporary agency worker before the 14 weeks come to an end, then they will have “equal treatment regarding pay from the first day of assignment”, which is unfair on the first temporary agency worker.

Moreover, said agencies aren’t even regulated by law said Castillo, adding that temporary agents are not mentioned in the regulations governing employment agencies.

This means that such agencies are not required to obtain a licence to operate, and as such avoid paying annual fees. It also guarantees them an expedient and smoother service when they apply for documents with Identity Malta on behalf of their clients (non-EU workers).

Castillo said that the whole point of having temporary agencies is for them to fill employment positions which have become temporarily vacant following long-term injury, sick leave or maternity leave. Despite this, such workers are left on an indefinite contract with their chosen temping agency, as this facilitates “moving them around”, he noted.

The PN MP said that apart from temporary worker agencies “importing” non-EU workers as their employees, “Malta has seen a surge of companies that ‘import’ workers to provide a service to a third party, such as through a tender for cleaning services”.

Over the past few months, The Malta Independent has conducted interviews with non-EU workers and seen work contracts employed by said temping agencies. It was noted that while being “imported” for a certain job, the temping agency worker would be doing another job, without it ever being documented in said contract.

Commenting on this, Castillo said that apart from such practice being illegal, it is also abusive. He said that this lack of enforcement is not only allowing abusive employers to favour the indirect employment of non-EU workers through temping agencies because of their usual low wages requirement by law (since the aforementioned LN 2018 was never implemented in law), but also allowing the exploitation and threatening of unemployment “if they (the non-EU workers) do not obey the third-party employer”.

Despite raising questions as to why LN 272 was never included in the legislation, Castillo said that “this big (equal pay for equal jobs) change” is definitely going to send temping agencies into a crisis. He said that if at present a temping agency is paying its employees €6 an hour, this expense is being calculated and charged from its customers (who are the third-party employers), with additional profit per employee per hour.

He said that the current business model engaged would not be profitable anymore if legal notice 272 was to be enforced. This is because the amendment would allow for “equal pay” after four weeks – whatever the duration of the employment – for the temporary agency worker filling the role.

Thus, Castillo said that it would make more sense to have a business model based on the “importation” of workers needed rather than having “an open-door policy that works against the Maltese worker”.

In a speech earlier this month, the PM said that the law as it currently stands, allows for anybody “to wake up one day and to start bringing people into the country”.

Commenting on this Castillo said that “if a teenager grabs their parents’ car keys and goes off on a joy ride, with or without permission, the parents are still ultimately responsible for any damages that the child incurs”.

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