2 JANUARY 2002

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Ill-timed white paper leads to mixed reactions

White Paper Employment Relations Act - workers’ rights and employers’ contention

By Marika Azzopardi

The White Paper on employment and industrial relations is the latest talk of the town and, although it has been hailed as being as worker-friendly as possible, employers are generally feeling they have been given the short end of the stick. The white paper presented a professional and elegantly illustrated booklet form hit the road bang in the middle of the Yuletide festivities.

In spite of the ill-timing tghere are many aspects to the well-meaning set of proposals, which is meant to guide the country towards a better in-house management of its world of work.

Two main points in the Conditions of Employment (Regulations) Act (CERA), are the socio-economic targets which the government plans to achieve in the short-term, namely

- the raising of the female participation rate in the work pool
- and the full utilisation of the national human resource pool

The new health and safety legislation includes a regulation stating that no employer can request an employee to work overtime, unless there is the prior approval of the director of the company. Employers will see the measure a catalyst for as an increase in red tape, which would only add to frustration and possible non-approval.

The White Paper also raises the issue related to the organisation of working hours, including the implementation of a 48 hour working week ceiling, as provided for by occupational health and safety regulations.

Meanwhile, a new amendment for part-time employees that would increase benefits coming their way directs employers to award cost of living increases on a pro rata basis.

Another important point on the employment agenda concerns the delicate issue of maternity leave. Female pregnant workers will be entitled to a total of 14 weeks of leave, receiving remuneration equivalent to 13 weeks of basic wage. One week is given without pay, perhaps a condition, which should serve as a pacifier to many employers - who are generally infamous for frowning upon those seeking maternity leave.

Moreover, the pregnant worker is now obliged to take at least six weeks leave after the date of confinement and she may decide how to distribute the remaining eight weeks, provided that the leave is taken immediately before or after the six week period.

After the child is born, both parents usually require some form of parental leave and the imminent introduction of the EU directive on the matter is another raw deal for employers to chew on.

This directive obliges member states to grant a minimum of three months unpaid leave, to be utilised by the employee until the child reaches eight years of age, also in the case of adoptions. In compensation the employer is granted a certain level of discretion on the manner in which this leave is distributed across the period until the child reaches eight years.

However, should the parents of the child be employed by the same employer, this would mean that the employer would lose out from six months of joint leave. Although leave is unpaid, it is hardly likely that employers with a minimal level of personnel would be pleased with this proposal.

While these are just a few of the proposals incorporated in the White Paper Employment Relations Act, the better part of the regulations are intended to direct employers along established European standards of work. However, whether the Act will be welcomed with open arms by employers is still to be determined.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt