25 January 2006

The Web
Business Today

New obligations acceptable to employers

James Debono
New obligations on employers to consult with their employees on the future of their employment and any measures taken to mitigate threats to their work are deemed acceptable by employers’ representatives.
The regulations transposing a European Union directive came into force after a legal notice was issued last week.
“The new regulations contribute to improve relations between employers and employees by increasing transparency,” Federation of Industry spokesperson Wilfred Kenely told Business Today.
The reaction of the Malta Employers Association was more lukewarm.
“A lot depends on how the regulation will be implemented,” MEA Director General Joe Farrugia told Business Today.
Through the new regulations employees employed in companies with more than 50 employees have a right to be informed and involved in matters which directly affect their status as employees.
Non-unionised employees will also be given a right to elect representatives. The regulations will be introduced in a phased manner depending on the size of the undertaking.
According to the MEA’s Director General the new regulations will not radically alter work practices in the private sector.
“In practice, many of the points listed in the regulations are already in force in many companies.” Joe Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers’ Association told Business Today.
The only significant change according to Farrugia is that while at present unionised employees have clauses on consultation and information entrenched in their collective agreement, such rights and obligations shall now be extended to cover those who may not be unionised.
The major concern for the Malta Employers’ Association is the disclosure of information to workers, which can be harmful to the company.
Joe Farrugia welcomes the inclusion of a safeguard against divulging information that would be harmful or be prejudicial to the undertaking.
“This makes sense as the disclosure of such information may jeopardize the interests of the employees themselves, besides that of the company.”
The MEA’s concern is how this clause will be interpreted in cases where the ban on disclosing information is contested by the employees. In such cases it will be up to the Industrial Tribunal to decide whether to disclose the information requested or not.
“But as long as the employer can decide not to divulge information which may harm the company, and that employees entrusted with confidential information will be bound not to disclose such information, the regulations should not be detrimental to the companies affected,” says Farrugia.
Farrugia acknowledges that organisation of ballots for non-unionised employees to elect their representatives could be “inconvenient” for companies.
The company is also obliged to hold a fresh call for nominations every three months in cases where there are no nominations.
“This means that the employer will have to keep record of the time elapsed,” noted Farrugia.
Another “inconvenience” for these businesses is that they will now have to hold meetings with representatives of both unions and underrepresented categories of employees.
Asked whether employers were consulted before the new regulations were issued, Wilfred Kenely said that since the legal notice transposed an EU directive, there was little scope for consultation.
According to Farrugia the matter was discussed at the Employment Relations Board, in which the MEA is represented.


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