By Jacob Magri – Paralegal
Earlier today, the Department of Industrial & Employment Relations published an FAQ document to clarify some of the most common queries in relation to work conditions during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In sum, the following clarifications were made:
An employer may, as a temporary measure, seek permission from the Director General of Industrial & Employment Relations in order to temporarily change the applicable conditions of work of his/her employees. The Director General of Industrial & Employment Relations may not however grant approval to such a request unless and until all employees, or the employees’ representatives, agree to the proposed changes, in terms of Article 42 of the Employment & Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 452 of the Laws of Malta.
Undertakings employing 50 employees and over shall make the practical arrangements necessary at the appropriate level to allow employees to exercise the right to information and consultation. Where there is no recognised trade union, the employer shall ensure that information and consultation of employees shall be carried out with the representatives of the employees elected or appointed by means of a secret ballot from amongst all employees.
An employer may moreover decide to resort to ‘forced leave’ as long as the s/he furnishes its employees with a written justification explaining why s/he is applying forced leave. The written statement has to be given to the employees before the forced leave starts to run.
Except where expressly permitted by the provisions of the Employment & Industrial Relations Act (Chapter 452), an employer is not permitted to make any deductions nor enter into any contract with an employee authorising any deductions to be made from the wages to be paid by the employer to the employee.
Working hours per week for employees may be reduced as long as the affected employees and/or their representatives agree with the proposed measure A contract of employment agreed on a full-time basis cannot however be changed into a part-time contract.
Employees whose employment has been terminated due to redundancy must be re-engaged by their respective employer if the post formerly occupied by him/her becomes available within a period of one year from the date of termination. If an employer is making an employee redundant then that employee is either to be given the opportunity to work their notice period or if this is not possible due to business closure or because the employer refuses to allow the employee to work such notice period then the employer is to pay the employee for the full notice period.
If one’s place of work has temporarily ceased to operate either due to enforcement by the Government or due to a reduction in business leading for business owners to temporarily close their business, the employer should place employees on forced leave before proceeding to unpaid leave once the vacation leave entitlement has been exhausted.
It has moreover been clarified that during periods of unpaid leave due to business closure, vacation leave entitlement shall not accrue during such period, irrespective of whether the employer has applied for the €800 grant to pay employees during the time of business closure.
Quarantine leave may only be given to persons who are to undergo obligatory quarantine as advised by Superintendent of Public Health. If an employee is quarantined on more than one occasion that employee shall be eligible for quarantine leave for each instance that s/he is obliged to undergo quarantine. Such leave is to be given in addition to vacation leave and not part of.
Persons benefitting from maternity leave before their place of work was locked down shall not be limited to the grant of €800. The employer should top up the difference in salary between entitlement and grant. If the place of work is still locked down by the end of the maternity leave, the employee shall continue from to be employed on unpaid leave and be paid the grant of €800 only from thereon.
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