Top security firm probed over miserly wages paid to foreigners

Foreign workers, including Eastern Europeans and African migrants, in backbreaking jobs remain unpaid and employed in precarious conditions.

Peter Formosa, managing director at JF Services, emerged from his office to snap a photo of MaltaToday’s photographer while taking photos of the JF office building. He denies claims by foriegn workers that they were paid at rates of just €3.60 an hour.
Peter Formosa, managing director at JF Services, emerged from his office to snap a photo of MaltaToday’s photographer while taking photos of the JF office building. He denies claims by foriegn workers that they were paid at rates of just €3.60 an hour.

Foreign workers are being made to work over 62 hour per week for a miserly hourly net wage of just over €3.60, MaltaToday has learned.

Documents seen by MaltaToday show the extent of the precarious employment of foreign workers in Malta, with some employees working for over 80 hours per week. Apart from working for longer hours and not being paid overtime according to the law, a number of employees were threatened and warned not to report the matter.

A number of foreign workers, especially Eastern Europeans, are being sent to Malta by agencies which strike agreements with Maltese companies, and contracts seen by MaltaToday show how Romanian nationals are lured to Malta by signing a pre-contract in Bucharest to work as a security agent / fire warder for 252 hours at €900 a month.

Once these workers are flown over to Malta, they sign a contract with a Maltese company. But MaltaToday can confirm, after seeking legal advice, that the contracts are in breach of the Private Security Services Wages Council Wage Regulation Order.

The law stipulates that the minimum weekly wage of €165.58, “shall be related to an average of forty hours per week calculated initially over a period of six consecutive weeks, and thereafter commencing on the following first Monday, provided that the hours of work shall not exceed forty-eight hours in any one week.”

A contract signed with the agency by one of the workers who contacted MaltaToday lays down that the employer shall pay the employee a net monthly salary of €900 for 252 hours payable after the 25th day of each month.

Moreover the contract says that the employer shall also pay for the accommodation, uniform, local taxes and national insurance contributions. However, the value of the accommodation is not quantified in the documents.

Since the contract says that the workers have to work for 252 hours a month, this means that the employees work a minimum of 58 hours a week, 10 hours above the maximum set by law.

Moreover, the contracts stipulate that the overtime will be paid at €4 an hour, again in breach of the wage regulation order which stipulates that all time worked in excess of forty-eight hours in any one week shall be paid at €6.21 per hour.

Beyond the precarious conditions, other documents confirm that the employers owe the foreign workers large sums of money and the contracts were not honoured.

MaltaToday is in possession of other documents issued by the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations which confirm that one worker is owed €1,090 by JF Services Limited, which employed him as a Security Agent/Fire Warder at Palumbo Shipyard.

The young Romanian, who is an AutoCAD designer, worked as a Fire Warder at Palumbo for five weeks, in which he totalled an impressive 314 hours. In one particular week, the man worked 12 hour shifts every day of the week, Sunday included.

He explained that the Palumbo paid JF Services around €15 per hour for each Fire Warder, however he only got €3.60 per hour. In addition, he explained “I have never had such a job, which carries its own health and safety risks, however I was sent to Palumbo where I got a two-hour training course on the first day at work.”

Following his stint at Palumbo, the man was sent to work as a labourer at Bajada New Energy where he was asked to mount solar panels. In the three weeks the man worked at Bajada, he clocked up 114 hours.

After eight weeks, the man resigned when the company failed to pay his wages. Despite being given a number of small “advance payments,” JF Services refused to pay the man his wages after claiming that the hours submitted did not match the hours provided by Palumbo.

“I was told by the company directors that there was a discrepancy of a few hours between the hours I submitted, which did not differ from my weekly roster, and the hours which were submitted by Palumbo,” he said, explaining that all small payments he received were in cash.

In addition, the man, who reached Malta at the end of August, was never given a play slip or a receipt for the payments he received. “I was given a number of small advance payments in cash because when I first came here I had no money to buy food or bus tickets to go to work.”

He said that after giving up on being paid, he resigned and went to the ETC to file a report and when the company got to know about this, the directors promised to pay him “to the last cent.”

But after going to the company offices, he was only given €300 in cash.

“After talking to the company directors on a number of occasions at their offices in Birkirkara, I was promised that I would be paid. However they never fulfilled their promise and after that I went to the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations who worked things out for me.”

The man was told that the department would make the claim on his behalf, however if the company does not pay him his dues, he could personally initiate legal proceedings against the company.

When the man, together with a co-national who had also resigned, went to the ETC to apply for a new job, they were told that JF Services had not registered their employment termination.

The two men returned to the company’s offices in Birkirkara to have the termination formula signed, but after waiting in vain for around three hours they were warned by their former female supervisor to “watch your shoulders”.

Other foreign workers who spoke to MaltaToday confirmed that they were owed money by JF Services and claimed that they were employed illegally and no contracts were ever signed.

These include another Romanian national who is owed €399 in unpaid wages over a 16-day period and sub-Saharan migrants who never signed a contract or had their National Insurance paid.

The workers who spoke to MaltaToday said that JF Services employs at least another 20 non-EU citizens under the same conditions, but as one worker explained “they do not speak up because they are afraid of being kicked out of the country since most of them do not have the necessary permits.”

These include men from Serbia, Somalia and sub-Saharan countries, the workers said.

Contacted by MaltaToday, JF Services director Peter Formosa confirmed that his company employed foreigners as fire warders, however denied any wrongdoing.

Asked whether his company had failed to pay any of the current or former workers, Formosa said, “It’s definitely not true. I deny it categorically.”

He said that all his company’s employees were paid according to law, adding that JF Services had fully collaborated with the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations by providing all the information requested.

On whether his company still had foreign workers on its books, Formosa said “These foreigners are a funny brand of people…they’re not like us. We made use of them for five weeks but now we do not employ any foreigners.”