Minister calls on businesses to start giving employees full pay

Shops which reopened after coronavirus restrictions were lifted must start paying employees in full, Minister Carmelo Abela says

Minister Carmelo Abela
Minister Carmelo Abela

Shops that have reopened after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted must start giving employees their full pay, Minister Carmelo Abela said. 

The employment relations watchdog will shortly start withdrawing temporary permissions it gave companies to reduce workers’ pay after COVID-19 restrictions came into force. 

Abela, whose ministerial portfolio within the Office of the Prime Minister includes industrial and employment relations, told MaltaToday that the next phase must include a return to normal employment conditions. 

His words may not go down too well with retail operators whose return to ‘normality’ is still conditioned by safety measures that limit customers and incomes that are nowhere near what they were before the pandemic hit in March. 

However, Abela’s comments come after warning last month that employees were not at liberty to decide for themselves if they should or should not report to work if their employer opened shop. 

“I made it clear that all employees had to report to work but now we are at the next juncture of our economic response and I will now see that the improved reality also reflects itself in what is experienced by our employees. Now is the time for all those shops that have re-opened to give employees their full pay,” Abela said. 

He insisted that government is still supporting these companies with the same level of wage supplement as it did in March and April. 

The government had opted to pay some companies in the private sector a wage supplement of €800 per month per employee for full-timers and €500 for part-timers. The measure was intended to help companies retain workers on their books.  

Abela would not be drawn into what government is expected to announce in tomorrow’s mini-budget. 

There is the expectation that the budgetary exercise will include new incentives for economic recovery but also lay down timeframes for the withdrawal of wage support and other measures introduced during the pandemic. 

Abela said the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations will start withdrawing temporary permissions granted to now-operational companies that enabled them to cut employees’ wages. 

“We will clamp down on abuse. This government will not stand idle in the face of a cunning few who believe they can play around with caveats and loopholes. On the contrary this government was elected on a platform of granting more rights to workers and we will see not only that salaries and working conditions return to pre-COVID levels wherever possible, but we will also stay committed to our call for further employee rights,” Abela insisted. 

Asked about the retention of teleworking arrangements that proved to be valuable over the past three months, especially for vulnerable people and working parents, Abela said a discussion with the social partners to analyse the situation was necessary. 

“I am confident that together we will successfully update current employment laws to better serve today’s realities,” he said.