Unions accused of bowing to government on weak work-life balance rules

“You’ve failed to protect the interests of the workers”: organisations in letter to GWU and UHM on the transposition of the European Directive on work-life balance

Six organisations active in support of workers’ rights, parental rights and equality between women and men, have called out Malta’s major unions for bowing down to bare minimum standards adopted by the Maltese government on EU rules for work-life balance.

The organisations accused the General Workers Union (GWU) and Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin (UHM) of consenting to give workers the least possible in terms of the EU law on work-life balance.

The organisations expressed their deep dismay that during closed-doors discussions on the Employment Relations Board, the unions agreed to a weak transposition of the EU law, without taking into account the needs of female and male workers who have family and care responsibilities.

“Legal Notice 201 of 2022, which transposes the Directive, gives the least possible to workers in Malta, with the result that, in practice, the objectives of the Directive will not be achieved,” the organisations – Moviment Graffitti, Malta Women’s Lobby, Malta Federation of Organisations Persons with Disability (MFOPD), National Parent’s Society Persons with Disability (NPSPD), Women’s Rights Foundation, and Aditus Foundation – said in a letter to the unions.

With the exception of ten days of fully paid paternity leave, all other measures transposing the EU law remain weak: of the four months of parental leave, only two months will be paid at just the sick pay rate of €21.85 per day, which means only a few working parents will be able to afford to use this leave.

“One of the aims of paid parental leave is to encourage men to make use of it so that family responsibilities are shared more equally between the sexes; a goal that will certainly not be reached due to the very low rate at which this leave will be paid. In addition, the fact that this leave cannot be taken all at once (only a month can be used until the child is four years old) means that parents will not be able to use it when they need it most,” the organisations said.

Additionally carers’ leave is only five days a year for workers to look after people in their care and will not be paid.

The right to request flexible working arrangement from the employer, as introduced by the Legal Notice, will also have almost no impact because there is no obligation to meet these demands in certain circumstances or under certain conditions.

In their letter, the organisations said that the results of this transposition show that the unions have completely failed to exert influence in favour of the interests of the workers during the discussions in the Employment Relations Board.

“The measures implemented are the mandatory minimum from the Directive and have been introduced through a ‘tick box’ exercise, only for Malta to comply with the Directive on paper, instead of an exercise that seeks to make a positive difference in the lives of working parents and those with care responsibilities.

“Where were the unions to ensure that the Directive was transposed in such a way as to protect the interests of women and men workers? Why didn’t the unions call for a broad consultation? Why did the unions agree to worst possible transposition of the Directive? Why have the unions failed to negotiate measure that have a more positive impact on workers and on equality between women and men in society?”

The organisations ended the letter by saying that they will be waiting for the unions to play their role of defenders of the interests of the workers and give full support to the request the organisations will make to the government for a broad consultation and significant improvements to the law.