Invasive COVID policies cause for concern with Crane workers

Employees at Crane Currency are complaining about 'invasive' company policies surrounding vacation leave

Employees at Crane Currency are complaining about “invasive” company policies surrounding vacation leave, with days spent home waiting for their negative swab test being deducted from their yearly leave.

A group of employees working at the company’s Ħal Far facility told MaltaToday that Crane Currency has adopted a strict policy that requires all workers to provide a detailed overview of their travel plans, including information on who they will be travelling with.

They are being asked to present a negative PCR test to the company within two days after arriving back in Malta, but until they receive the result, they are being forced to stay home with this time deducted from their vacation leave.

The employees also reported instances whereby the company asked to see the PCR test results of relatives who were in quarantine after encountering positive patients.

Several of the employees have shown their disapproval of this measure, and have asked the Information and Data Protection Commissioner to take action. The problem is that the IDPC cannot do anything unless a formal complaint is made, which would disclose the name of the complainant and put that person’s employment with the company at risk.

However, they were advised not to give details on their vacation activities nor on whom they will be spending their vacation time with.

The employees tried reaching out to the General Workers’ Union (GWU) through their appointed Shop Steward but said that they had no luck.

“We are dreading our holidays and some of us have also had to cancel their travels since they do not have extra leave days to cover for their PCR result period,” an employee said.

“We do not want to lose our job, but this is putting a lot of unwanted stress in an already stressful environment.”

A formal request for comment was sent to company, but no reply was given in time for publication.

COVID data is personal data, IDPC says

Ian Deguara, the data protection commissioner, clarified that no one can ask to see the result of a PCR test unless they are legally entitled to do so. This is because COVID test results are medically sensitive data that is subject to the relevant GDPR laws.

The GDPR stipulates that the processing of this data is generally prohibited, with some exceptions at law. Deguara explained that an employer could legitimise the collection of this data for the purposes of preventive or occupational medicine, or for the assessment of an employee’s working capabilities.

“[Employers should] be in a position to demonstrate among other things that the collection of data fulfils a specified, explicit and legitimate purpose,” he said.

For full GDPR compliance, employers should also provide employees with a set of information stipulated in article 13 of the regulations.

“My general advice for employers is not to take the default position and collect the employees’ COVID-19 infection status data without conducting a proper and thorough assessment,” Deguara added. “By virtue of the risk-based approach contemplated under the GDPR, an employer engaging front liners who are in constant engagement with the public, may have a more solid legal standing on the strength of which to legitimise the collection of such information.”

We need guidelines, GWU boss insists

Josef Bugeja, the secretary-general of the GWU, said that the union is trying to find the right balance between individual health rights and overall employee safety.

However, he remarked that clear guidelines are needed from the health authorities to clear up the confusion surrounding the issue.

“We’ve asked for an urgent meeting with the employment relations board… but I think we need guidelines from health authorities,” he said.

In principle, Bugeja stated that the GWU will fight to have this ‘PCR leave’ taken on by the company instead of the employee. But he pointed out that this mandatory swabbing is only being requested when coming from abroad – if someone hasn’t travelled but is going to Paceville every weekend, there’s no obligation for them to take a swab test, even if the risks of infection are the same.

He also noted situations where people travelling from green countries are not told to swab on arrival, yet when they go back to work they are being forced to show proof of a negative PCR test result.

“It’s all about the individual versus the collective rights,” he said.