All you need to know about employee rights in Malta
Employees in the Maltese islands enjoy an array of rights, covered both by national and EU law. From the right to be offered fair job conditions, to being protected from various forms of discrimination, the law tries to cater for every possibility.
There’s a lot of information out there for business owners to digest about their workers’ rights. Keeping up with all the directives and legal documents can get daunting.
But knowing exactly what your workers are entitled to will help you protect your company’s reputation and maintain your most valuable team members. So keep reading if you feel you need a refresher on the subject.
What are the main Maltese laws?
As in many other countries around the globe, the right of all Maltese and Gozitan citizens to work is enshrined in the Constitution. In fact, Chapter 2 of the Constitution declares the basic principles of workers’ rights, which deal with a range of employment-related topics including working hours, labour of minors and rights of female workers.
But if you want to get down to the nitty gritty of how to protect your employees’ rights, there is one particular piece of local law you should always keep near - the Employment and Industrial Relations Act.
This Act, which is in line with EU legislation, regulates every important aspect of employment, including workers’ rights. It’s also an essential document for any business owner who wants to better understand his or her own rights in relation to their employees. After all, there are two sides to every story.
What are the basic rights?
According to the European Commission, every worker in the EU is entitled to a basic set of rights. Every EU member state must make sure these rights are satisfied by employers to, at least, the very minimum. In Malta, this is done through the Employment and Industrial Relations Act.
The Commission groups these rights under four main categories:
- Health and safety
- Equal opportunities for women and men
- Protection against discrimination
- Labour law
Delving into each of these categories, and relating them directly to our local circumstances, will help paint a clearer picture of your own employees’ rights.
1. Health & safety
Maintaining health and safety standards is always key in making sure business runs smoothly. The European Council Directive of 1989 (on measures to improve safety and health at work) stipulates numerous rights all employees have in this context. These include the right to stop working in a place where there’s a risk of serious danger, to be in a workplace where facilities and equipment are certified as safe to use, and to appeal to the competent authorities when matters escape one’s control.
The goal for employers is to integrate health and safety precautions into the processes and systems that are already in place, rather than consider them as afterthoughts and act upon them only when something goes wrong.
For more details on how to observe health and safety standards, get in touch with the OHSA (Occupational Health & Safety Authority), which is empowered to oversee health and safety standards in all places of work in Malta. You can also browse through the Occupational Health and Safety Authority Act.
2. Gender equality
Men and women deserve equal treatment in all walks of life, particularly as members of the workforce. It should go without saying that any form of discrimination based on gender is unacceptable, be it in terms of recruitment, wages, working conditions or promotional opportunities. Moreover, a person’s marital status or parental responsibilities should not impact the way they are treated while at work.
A particularly hot issue is parental leave, in that mothers can benefit from up to 18 consecutive weeks, whereas fathers only have one day of birth leave available to them.
The law states that expecting female employees are to notify their employer of how they plan to allocate their 18 weeks of uninterrupted maternity leave at least 4 weeks in advance. They also possess the right to return to their former role, or a very similar one if it’s no longer available, on termination of their maternity leave.
The Department for Industrial & Employment Relations provides that “both male and female workers have the individual right to be granted unpaid parental leave”, which applies in cases of the birth, adoption, fostering or gaining of legal custody of a child.
Unpaid parental leave can be availed of for a total of 4 months until the child is 8 years old. Unless a different period is agreed on, parental leave is only available to a prospective parent who has worked for at least a year with their current employer. Read through the Parental Leave Entitlement Regulations for more details.
3. Protection against discrimination
Gender inequality is not the only form of discrimination Maltese workers should be protected from. Discrimination in any workplace based on one’s race, religious beliefs, age, disability or sexual orientation is also prohibited.
Fair treatment, resulting in equal opportunity, is a basic human right of all working citizens, both in the EU and the Maltese islands. There is a Directive of the European Council which establishes a general framework for equal treatment in the context of employment. This Directive aims to address all the possible types of discrimination workers may be subjected to, including other more subtle situations relating to one’s level of income or social background.
Irrespective of when or where it happens, Maltese workers are protected from any sort of discrimination. This same Directive applies to both the public and private sector, and covers discrimination scenarios which may come about in relation to training, access to promotions, working conditions and many other areas.
As an employer, you are only authorised to treat employees differently if they have genuine dissimilar occupations, making the nature of their particular post susceptible to unique treatment.
4. Labour law
Maltese and EU law set out specific rules concerning all working conditions, from having balanced hours and a fair contract, to social protection and justifiable pay. Let’s take a closer look at these rights, catered for by both local and international labour law.
How can the recruitment process go smoothly?
- Job clarity. Employers aren’t obliged to create a job description for the employees they intake. However, this is good practice and a very reliable way of preventing disputes on job content at a later stage. In any case, one should only be asked to perform work related to their position as agreed on in their contract. This is why laying down a job description from the get-go is vital.
EU law does make one imposition though. Eight days from the commencement of employment, a written agreement or signed letter of engagement must exist in some form between the employer and employee. At minimum, this document should include: the standard hours one is required to work, how payment will be effected and what leave opportunities will be made available. This document needs to outline the overall working conditions the employee will be subjected to.
- Probation. As employees start settling into their position, by law they are subject to a probationary period of 6 months, or of 1 year in cases of high positions which pay at least double the minimum wage. These same periods apply for both part-time and full-time workers, and they can be shortened with the employee’s consent.
During these probationary periods, employment can be terminated without the need to give a reason, but with a notice of 1 week and only if a person has occupied their position for at least a month.
- Recruiting young people. This should not be dealt with lightly by employers. Children under the age of 15, or who are still enrolled in full-time compulsory education, can never be employed. The only possible exceptions apply to the carrying out of certain kinds of light activities related to sports or the arts. And, even in these cases, the person in question cannot be younger than 13.
Young people aged between 15 and 18 can enter the world of employment, but they must not be asked to work in ways which exceed their mental or physical capacities, amongst other health and safety protections.
How do you ensure fair job conditions?
- Clear working conditions. EU law states that working conditions must always be transparent and predictable. Employees have the right to: complete information on the essential aspects of their position, to receive mandatory training for free and to be facilitated in making any necessary changes to their work, such as requesting a transfer or seeking additional employment. How employers inform their workers about the conditions applicable to their job is also very important, and there is an EU Directive which specifically regulates this.
- Part-time workers. Legally, job conditions for part-timers must be completely fair and not less favourable than those applicable to full-timers in their same position. Part-timers are afforded a number of rights by both Maltese and EU law, including being able to organise their working hours flexibly, and to easily transfer from working part-time to full-time, or vice versa.
Whether someone is working for your business on a permanent basis or for a fixed term, discrimination is never justified. For instance, replacing permanent employment with successive fixed term contracts is completely prohibited. Fixed term workers are also protected by an EU Directive.
What are the justifiable wage rates?
- Minimum wage. Every worker has the right to be paid the national minimum wage. It’s important to note that the minimum wage rates, that are occasionally revised by government, do not apply equally to every worker in the Maltese islands. Our law caters for 32 different job sectors, each with their own individual Wage Regulation Orders (WRO). From construction and agriculture to hotel management and transportation, the particular sector’s economic activity determines the applicable WRO, all of which you can access here.
- Overtime. The different WROs also determine the applicable overtime rates. If not covered by one of the orders, the standard overtime rate is to be paid 1.5 times the normal wage for a 40 hour week. In terms of hours working overtime, employees have the right to refuse working more than 48 hours a week.
- Bonuses and allowances. Maltese workers are entitled to full statutory bonuses and weekly allowances every 6 months. You can find the exact amounts here. Not to mention the cost of living increase, which employers are also obliged to guarantee to their workers in full or partially, in proportion to the amount of hours they work.
- Same job, same pay. Employees who perform the same duties have the right to be paid the same rate. An employee’s rate of pay cannot be decreased when their position changes from part-time to full-time or vice versa. One is to be paid accordingly when sent for obligatory training, and should also be paid on all 14 of our annual public and national holidays.
What kind of hours should you expect your employees to work?
- Work day. Maltese workers cannot work more than 48 hours a week, excluding overtime. The period can increase with the employee’s written consent, and only if the additional hours still fall within the rest periods established by law.
- Rest periods. One is entitled to a minimum of 15 minutes of rest during a work day which lasts more than 6 hours. In between leaving work and going back the next day, there should be at least 11 consecutive hours of rest, together with 24 hours or more of uninterrupted rest over a weekly period. Monetary compensation can never be used to substitute the rest periods laid down by law.
- Night workers. Night workers have the right to not more than 50 per cent of their shift being between 10pm and 6am, and their night shift cannot be longer than 8 hours in a given 24-hour period. Irrespective of any hours one is required to work, day or night, EU law makes it a point to remind employers that they need to respect their staff’s work-life balance.
What leave are your employees entitled to?
- Annual leave. Those who work a standard 40-hour week are entitled to 192 hours of paid annual leave, meaning a period of 4 weeks and 4 days. Leave starts accumulating from commencement of employment, and can be taken in hours or as full days, depending on the agreement present between the employer and the worker.
- Other forms of leave. If there isn’t an applicable WRO, sick leave normally consists of two working weeks a year for any worker, whereby a medical certificate or leave application is required every time. Obviously, there are a number of other types of leave Maltese workers have the right to take advantage of, including maternity leave, marriage leave and bereavement leave.
And what about job termination?
In the typical scenario of an indefinite contract, the notice period for termination is calculated based on how long an employee has been occupying their role. This ranges from issuing the notice one week ahead if someone has been working with you for less than 6 months, to 12 weeks notice when an employee has been with you for over 10 years. The notice period may be prolonged when the position in question is one of a technical, administrative or executive nature.
An employer may decide not to issue a notice for termination if he or she has a compelling enough reason. But usually, two written warnings over a reasonable period of time, followed by a final warning before resorting to termination, are expected.
Bonus: We cannot forget about the right to inform and consult workers in any serious situations that may significantly impact their job, such as cases of collective redundancies and company transfers. There is also protection for employees when their employer becomes insolvent, whereby the employee would be entitled to any outstanding claims or payments.
When it comes to Employer-employee relations, the Malta Employers’ Association provides noteworthy advice and reliable guidance. There’s also the MEAINDEX, an online platform for business entrepreneurs which was established lately to facilitate access for information, and understand better our local business ecosystem.
In turn, as an employer on the receiving side of such a claim, you may require the services of an Employment lawyer.
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