02 February 2005

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Public holidays definition still in the air
By Kurt Sansone

Employees who normally work on public holidays and are paid extra for doing so could lose their premium if Government amends the definition of a public holiday as announced by Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi last Saturday.
After failing to reach common agreement on the measures outlined in the social pact presented by Gonzi, unions are now faced with an even bigger dilemma as Government intends returning to its original budget measure to prevent public holidays falling on a weekend from being added on to employees’ leave entitlement.
With no intention of amending the Industrial Relations Act, which clearly states that employees have to be compensated by extra days of vacation leave for every public holiday that falls on a weekend, Gonzi is left with no option but to change the Public Holidays Act.
In so doing Government can either on a yearly basis declare specific public holidays as being normal working days or else permanently change the definition of a public holiday to exclude those holidays that fall on a weekend from being defined as holidays.
Judging by what Dr Gonzi told the press on Saturday, Government intends going for the latter option. If this is the case employees will also lose their public holiday premium.
Government’s decision to go back to square one and push ahead with the budget measure to curb public holidays that fall on a weekend rather than implement substantial parts of the measures agreed to in the social pact by a majority of unions has perplexed industrial relations experts.
“If Government had the backing of all the constituted bodies and a vast majority of unions for its proposals it should have legislated accordingly rather than going back to the public holidays issue,” one expert told The Malta Financial and Business Times.
All unions had vehemently opposed Government’s decision to touch public holidays. Instead of removing two days vacation leave every year for the next four years, a proposal that had the support of all unions except the GWU, Gonzi decided to revert to his budget proposal.
“Government’s decision makes little sense because the GWU could have been isolated in its position unless Government is seeking some sort of mileage from what seems to be looming confrontation with the GWU,” another industrial relations lawyer told this newspaper.


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