Mandatory employee union membership being studied by government

Equality Minister Edward Zammit Lewis says different models are being explored

The government is actively considering a proposal by the GWU to make it mandatory for all workers to be unionised
The government is actively considering a proposal by the GWU to make it mandatory for all workers to be unionised

The government is actively exploring the possibility of introducing a requirement for all workers to be part of a union or professional association, Equality Minister Edward Zammit Lewis said on Monday.

The minister was speaking during a meeting with the administration of the General Workers Union, where he outlined his priorities for the remainder of the legislature.

The proposal was originally put forward by the GWU as a means of addressing precarious work, abuse and the exploitation of employees.

In his Budget speech in October last year Prime Minister Joseph Muscat also urged a discussion on the matter.

Zammit Lewis said the government was looking at how the proposal could be implemented while respecting people’s right of association.

Malta, he said, wasn’t trying to reinvent the wheel and was looking at models in countries like Austria.

“We are studying the possibility at government level and not just within the ministry,” Zammit Lewis said.

Fresh into his mandate as equality minister, Edward Zammit Lewis met with the GWU on Monday
Fresh into his mandate as equality minister, Edward Zammit Lewis met with the GWU on Monday

GWU Secretary General Josef Bugeja noted that a study commissioned by the President’s office last year had found that there was less inequality in work places where employees were part of a union.

Bugeja said the union would continue to insist, as it had done in the past, on equal pay for jobs of the same value, in light of a growing trend where employees at the same place of work were being employed by different companies.

“We can’t have a situation like we do with carers, where one employee has one set of conditions and his colleague is earning the minimum wage,” Bugeja said.

He said there were also a number of challenges brought about by the increase in size of Malta foreign workforce, especially third country nationals who had fewer legal protections than EU nationals.

The country's laws, he said, needed to be updated to reflect present-day workplace realities.

One example was the rise of the gig economy where people offer their service without technically being registered as an employee or a self-employed.

Zammit Lewis said the government’s priority was to have equality in all aspects of life in Malta.

He said that the issue of equal pay for the same job needed to be addressed and could no longer be swept under the carpet.

The minister noted that the new European Commission President Ursula Von der Leyen already stressed that the EU’s social pillar will be a priority for her commission, adding that the government was on the same page in this regard.

Other priorities, he said, were reducing the gender pay gap and increasing pay transparency.

These changes would need employers and other stakeholders to be on board in order to succeed.

Another goal the minister has set himself is the strengthening of the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations, both in terms of the resources it has and in its ability to enforce the law.

Similarly, he said he would also like to hear from stakeholders how the Industrial Tribunal can be improved.

More in National