15 December 2004

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Industrial relations lawyer suggests government could reduce public holidays

By Julian Manduca

Advocate Andrew Borg Cardona has told The Malta Financial and Business Times the government had few options but to reduce the number of public holidays in order to implement the budget measure that would cut down the number of days leave, by those falling on weekends.
The budget announcement was strongly attacked by industrial relations lawyer Ian Spiteri Bailey last Sunday in our sister paper MaltaToday, but could still be introduced across the board, according to lawyer Andrew Borg Cardona who also has considerable experience in industrial relations.
Spiteri Bailey had said the government plans were morally and legally wrong and slammed the government for the budget measure, saying it would be impossible to implement. he pointed out that collective agreements that are in force superseded any change to clause 17 of the Industrial Relations Act and are untouchable until they expire.
Speaking to this newspaper, Borg Cardona did not want to comment on the morality of the move, but said: “Whether it is legally wrong or not depends on the means that will be adopted to bring it into effect. For instance, simply legislating to the effect that all contracts of employment and collective agreements will have to be interpreted in such a way as to bring the measure into effect might seem to be the easy way out, but I doubt that a government can legislate in this way as a matter of principle.”

But Borg Cardona did not, however, rule out going down that road: “This having been said, there is an underlying theory in industrial relations law that national economic and social policy should be reflected in the way the law is given effect, so I suppose that there might be some justification to legislate in this way.”
On the other hand Borg Cardona suggested there are other options open to the government and made a novel suggestion: “The easiest way out might be to change the law relating to public holidays, by listing public holidays in such a way as to ensure that the ones that fall on weekends are not deemed to be public holidays any more.
“This solution, which I admit takes advantage of a technicality, also has the difficulty of not addressing what happens in those areas of enterprise where work carries on in a 24/7 manner - the right to an extra day’s leave arises when a Public Holiday falls on a day off and not necessarily on a weekend.”
Borg Cardona does see a problem will trying to tackle the collective agreements and told The Malta Financial and Business Times: “To be frank, I don’t see a clear way out. Once there isn’t consensus, perhaps the only way forward would be for the Government to bite the bullet and legislate to shorten the list of Public Holidays. That would bring everyone onto the same footing - any other way leaves too many anomalies between people covered by collective agreements (and employment contracts) and people who are not.”

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Malta Financial & Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann
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