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JF Services facing new probe over alleged breach of employment laws

JF Services Ltd is allegedly underpaying some of its employees thousands of euros a year, as workers accused the company of refusing to pay for overtime according to the law and grant leave and sick-leave, while paying them less than the minimum wage

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan
28 March 2017, 7:30am
 JF Services directors Peter and Matthew Formosa denied the claims
JF Services directors Peter and Matthew Formosa denied the claims
A company which in 2014 was investigated by the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations over the precarious employment of foreign workers is facing new claims by its employees and is under investigation over another six cases. 

JF Services Ltd, which employs some 1,700 people in security, healthcare, logistics and corporate jobs, is allegedly underpaying some of its employees thousands of euros a year, as workers who spoke to this newspaper accused the company of refusing to pay for overtime according to the law and grant leave and sick-leave, while paying them less than the minimum wage. 

The Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) told MaltaToday that the company is undergoing investigation over six separate cases of employment law breaches.

Asked whether any action was taken following the 2014 report which appeared on MaltaToday, DIER said “as in any other case, investigations were carried out. Claims were settled by the employer without the need to proceed to court and the company rectified its position in accordance with the law.”

However talking to MaltaToday, JF Services directors Peter and Matthew Formosa denied these claims and said that “we have a clean slate and there are no pending investigations.”

Asked whether any of their employees is paid less than the minimum wage, Peter Formosa said “hand on heart, all our workers are paid according to the law and nobody is paid less than the minimum wage.”

However, payslips issued by JF Services Ltd in December and seen by MaltaToday show that workers, some of which work some 80 hours a week, are being paid a basic wage of €4.10 per hour. Their wages are then topped up by weekly allowances but workers alleged that they are not receiving the government bonuses.

Last year, the minimum wage stood at €728 per month, or €168 per week which works out at €4.20 per hour. 

Peter Formosa said if anyone of his employees was paid less than the minimum wage it “must be an error because we would be crazy not to observe the law when DIER monitors our operations.”

He also alleged that the payslips seen by MaltaToday could be manipulated as he went on to accuse foreign workers of tampering with payslips. 

Workers’ complaints

A number of employees of JF Services Ltd, which has a number of subsidiaries operating in diverse fields, ranging from construction to security, to healthcare and cleaning services, told MaltaToday they are also charged an extra €100 to have their permits renewed – over and above the €280 fee paid to national employment agency JobsPlus.

One of the workers, who asked to remain anonymous, said that over a 12-month period he has been underpaid by more than €5,000 as the company also refuses to pay for work carried out on Sundays and Public Holidays overtime.

For instance, according to the Construction Wages Council Wage Regulation Order, workers in the construction industry who work on Saturdays should be paid 150% of their normal wage rate. Workers engaged on Sunday should be paid 200% of their normal wage rate. 

Workers engaged on a holiday should be paid 300% of the normal wage rate (double time/200% in addition to a normal hourly wage).

In 2014, MaltaToday reported that one of its subsidiaries was employing foreign workers for a miserly hourly net wage of just over €3.60 and was in breach of employment laws.

However, Matthew Formosa said that following these reports the company was only asked to adjust the contractual conditions offered to foreign workers.  

In 2011, the General Workers Union also filed an industrial dispute against JF Security after the company allegedly introduced a mechanism by which workers’ hours were reduced from their pay.

Government contracts

Questions sent to the Finance Ministry on whether the company has been awarded any contracts since 2014 remain unanswered. 

A quick search in the Government Gazette shows that the company has been awarded at least two contracts since then; a direct order for security services by the Malta Financial Services Authority in April 2016 and a contract for cleaning services by the Regulator for Energy and Water Services also in 2016. The two contracts were worth €18,127.68 and €5,875.20 respectively. 

The company also provides cleaners to public hospitals and health centres and also provides hundreds of workers to government agency WasteServe. 

Workers, including foreign employees, who spoke to MaltaToday said that when they speak up for their rights the company’s directors and management staff threaten to revoke their work permits and have them repatriated. 

In one instance, the workers said, a colleague of theirs was fired after refusing to work overtime which he was not being paid for. 

But Peter Formosa vehemently denied this and said that all workers are compensated for overtime as stipulated by law. 

Beyond the precarious conditions reported by the workers, other documents confirm that foreign workers are owed large sums of money and the contracts signed were not honoured.

jurgen
Jurgen Balzan joined MaltaToday in 2011, specialising in politics, foreig...