Employers react to union directive on remote work: ‘unauthorised absence is unpaid leave’

Employers react to union directive to workers whose children will have online schooling during first days of school

Malta’s major employers body has called on teachers unions to keep disruptions to schools to a minimum as vaccination and boosters programmes get underway.

The Chamber of Commerce was referring to directives by the Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin to their members for the postponement of opening of schools by a couple of days.

The UĦM said employees should work from home or be assigned alternative duties to work from home if they have children registered at childcare centres, children up to 12 years registered in the Klabb 3-16, or will be following online schooling on 6 and 7 January; or have disabled children.

The union directive shall remains in force as long as schools remain closed but it shall not apply if either parent is able to look after the child.

But the Malta Employers’ Association responded by telling employers to treat any absence from work which has not been authorised, as unpaid leave. “It is the prerogative of the employer to decide whether its employees should work remotely or not,” the MEA said.

The Chamber of Commerce on its part called for unions to enter into dialogue, rather than issue unilateral directives.

“This approach is uncalled for,” the Chamber said. “For the past two years there has been close cooperation between employers and their employees, whether unionised or otherwise. This collaboration has enabled so many to work from home, to adopt more flexible working hours, and to absent themselves from work at short notice for all sorts of reasons, ranging from quarantines to school closures.”

The Chamber said unions had to be judicious in determining the appropriate duration of preventive quarantine periods, particularly when employees are fully vaccinated.

“This will ensure that disruptions to schools and workplaces are kept to a minimum. Where particular circumstances necessitate that children under 12 are kept at home, arrangements need to be made by the parents on a case-by-case basis, with their respective employers, as has happened countless times in the past two years.”

The Chamber appealed to education authorities and unions to find workable solutions that minimised disruption in workplaces, and prioritised children’s education.

“There is broad consensus that online schooling can never substitute face-to-face learning. We have to acknowledge that the current generation of students has already accumulated significant educational deficit over the last two years as a result of online schooling.”