Majority of employers want mandatory COVID-19 vaccine to fight work absenteeism

Malta Employers’ Association head says lack of clarity on quarantine and self-isolation terms is leading to abuse

Joseph Farrugia
Joseph Farrugia

The vast majority of Maltese employers are in favour of mandatory COVID vaccination for staff as they struggle with high levels of absenteeism, BusinessToday has learned.

Joseph Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers’ Association, said that the surge in absenteeism caused by COVID-related absence is having a significant impact on companies.

Having unvaccinated staff at the workplace was a risk for other employees, especially in sectors where work from home is not a viable alternative.

At the moment, the COVID-19 vaccine is not mandatory for any sector, however, a valid vaccination certificate is required to visit various establishments from Monday, 17 January.

Certificates for two doses of the vaccine expire after three months, while a certificate that includes the booster dose is valid for nine months.

Establishments requiring a valid COVID vaccine certificate include restaurants, bars, każini, gyms, spas, cinemas and theatres.

Farrugia said that many employers were having to deal with an increasing number of staff who were claiming to be in precautionary self-isolation.

“There is no certification covering self-isolation and no way for anyone to confirm the person actually needs to go into self-isolation for 10, seven or four days,” he said.

“And even when work can be carried out from home, some workers are refusing to do so while in self-isolation or quarantine.”

Farrugia said that, in a survey conducted by the MEA, 32% of the 325 respondents reported having an absence rate of higher than 15%which is making coping with the shortage of workers a problem in many workplaces.

58% of respondents said that they are coping with absenteeism through teleworking where possible, while 51% said that they have resorted to reducing operations.

The survey covered companies operating in all sectors of the economy.

Farrugia said that the MEA had never suggested a course of action to the health authorities and had always followed regulations issued by the authorities in dealing with the pandemic.

“We have always respected and abided with the regulations and guidelines issues but we now feel that the situation needs to be monitored constantly as there are some issues that need to be further clarified and agreed upon,” he said.

Among these, the exact length of quarantine and isolation according to the level of exposure to COVID-19 needs to be clearly laid out, Farrugia said.

At the moment, many people seemed to be arbitrarily deciding on their own how long to spend in isolation or quarantine.

This has placed a huge burden on employers who are struggling to keep up with demand and who are finding it difficult to cope with the shortage of workers.

“With some employees refusing to work from home while in isolation, they now face having those days deducted from their leave or not getting paid for those days,” Farrugia said.

This has put the MEA at odds with the unions, and although progress was registered on some issues during a meeting of the Employment Relations Board on Tuesday, no agreement has as yet been reached on how to deal with staff on self-isolation.

Farrugia said that the fact that the spike in the number of positive Covid cases during the past three weeks has also amplified the number of employees who have been in primary contact with such cases has led to a dramatic increase in absenteeism because of quarantine.

This disruption in business activity will have a negative impact on GDP and government finances, given that the wage supplement will have to be extended to at least the first quarter of  2022  to many businesses as a result.

Call for MCESD discussion

In a related statement issued on Wednesday, the Forum Unions Maltin, said the government could be planning to introduce legislation that would make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for workers in specific sectors.

Forum called for a meeting of the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development to discuss the possibility that appears to have been floated during Tuesday’ meeting of the Employment Relations Board.

The union federation said that if mandatory vaccination was being considered, the MCESD had to discuss the “significant” ramifications this would have for both employees and employers.

“Forum is requesting an MCESD meeting with the health minister to address any union and employer issues,” Forum said.

MUT objects to making COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for certain sectors

The Malta Union of Teachers (MUT), an affiliate member of Forum Unions Maltin, came out against rumoured government plans to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory for specific sectors.

“The union has presented its objections from the onset of the vaccination programme, and whilst it has worked for its members to have access to vaccinations, it shall remain against any measure to enforce vaccinations of categories of employees,” the MUT said.

The union said that whilst it will continue to cooperate with the government in its vaccination programme, it strongly objected to any decision to enforce the COVID-19 vaccine on employees.

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