New employment regulations brought in

By Herman Grech, The Times of Malta, 31 December 2002

Worker rights have been substantially beefed up overnight, through eight legal notices relating to the new Employment and Industrial Relations Act, that are being published today.

The new regulations, backdated to last Friday, represent a considerable proportion of the new working conditions which were mapped out following years of consultation with the social partners, Deputy Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi told a news conference.

The new measures include the provision of three-month unpaid parental leave for workers, the entitlement to pro-rata benefits for part-timers working more than 14 hours per week, and the establishment of a guarantee fund for wages claimed during insolvency.

It also protects against dismissal in case of company mergers, job security for employees working for more than four years on a fixed-term contract, as well as higher worker protection in cases of redundancies.

Dr Gonzi said the measures signalled the elimination of long-standing discrimination in a number of circumstances particularly for part-timers, fixed-contract workers, foreigners working in Malta, as well as better protection to assist workers during restructuring.

He said work at various departments was stepped up in the past months to ensure that the changes can be catered for.

The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations has in fact been undergoing a major overhaul which entailed the engagement of a number of employment relations officers and legal officers, as well as major refurbishment exercises to enable a smooth transition.

Dr Gonzi explained that three other Legal Notices, dealing with issues such as maternity leave and working time organisation, will be published in the coming weeks.

The minister stressed that Malta's planned accession to the EU had accelerated the adoption of the new employment regulations.

Dr Gonzi said he firmly believed the new employment and industrial relations legislation had ushered in a new era of workers' rights.

“The government is firm in its belief that the Maltese worker will benefit from additional protection thanks to these regulations,” he said.

The Legal Notices are the results of a White Paper on employment relations, published exactly a year ago, which followed months of discussions at all levels, including the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development.

A particular clause in the White Paper had triggered off a wave of protests from the trade unions who opposed the fact that different categories of workers had been categorised as forming part of an essential service and therefore not permitted to strike.

Present for yesterday's news conference were Social Policy Ministry Permanent Secretary Joe Ebejer, the Director of Employment and Industrial Relations, Frank Pullicino, and Employment Relations Board chairman Edward Zammit.