In a statement to the media, the Malta Chamber together with the Malta Employers Association and the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association said that the right to enrol with a union should be left completely to the discretion of the individual employee. The same was said of the right of a company to join a business organisation or employer body, which should remain the sole prerogative of the particular business.
The employer bodies were reacting to comments made by the Prime Minister in Parliament whereby he was encouraging a debate on the subject.
Catherine Calleja, Director & Group Company Secretary at Atlas Insurance is of the opinion that a national discussion on worker participation in today’s employment market, which is increasingly characterised by free movement of people and digitisation, should encompass pluralism and various ways of encouraging dialogue and information. Especially in cases of redundancies, transfers of undertakings and in cases of EU scale undertakings.
“Limiting this important discussion to one on forced union membership in today’s market seems surprising, somewhat regressive and out of place, in a market characterised by labour shortages and salary inflation where many employers are experiencing serious difficulties in attracting and retaining talent,” she said.
Ms Calleja also noted that the free right of association where an individual feels that a union would improve worker participation/control must be safeguarded.
Joseph Farrugia, Director General of the Malta Employers Association is in agreement. Voicing his organisation’s position, he says that union membership should be voluntary and unobstructed.
Referring to the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention 87, he says that it provides for “the right of association by both employees and employers, and also the right to disassociate. Therefore the idea of obligatory membership clearly violates Convention 87. According to data compiled by the DIER, which also acts as the Registrar for Trade Unions in Malta, Malta has close to a 100k union membership, and this data is provided by the union themselves,” Mr Farrugia says.
“This means that Malta has more than 50 per cent of its workforce that is unionised, which, when compared to other EU states, ranks among the highest. Therefore there is scant evidence to support the view that union membership is in any way obstructed. It is true that there is a trend of falling union membership in the EU. This is the result, among other factors, of an overregulated labour market - which ironically, is brought about by the unions themselves – which makes more employees feel that unions’ role is being diminished as most working conditions are now dictated by legislation. Obligatory union membership does not exist in the EU and the MEA insists that union membership should remain voluntary even in Malta,” Mr Farrugia said.
Alfred Attard, Grand Hotel Excelsior HR Manager, notes that the Constitution of Malta already allows the right to citizens to join a union. “The right of association is enshrined in law. The right to freedom of association is also cherished in the ILO directives. It also allows the freedom to disassociate oneself from either a trade union or employer organisation,” Mr Attard points out.
“Implementing compulsory membership does not add any rights” he says. “On the contrary it would be anti-democratic. The decision to join a union or employer body should be left entirely up to the individual employee or company to decide,” he concluded.
Adding a legal perspective to the debate, Dr Matthew Brincat, Partner at Ganado Advocates says that any proposal for compulsory membership of a trade union or of an employer's organisation runs counter to the moral fibre of Malta’s constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights.
Dr Brincat joins the other speakers in pointing out that this proposal “runs directly counter to the ILO Convention concerning Freedom of Association and Protection of the Right to Organise (Entry into force: 04 Jul 1950) because these base charters and laws laying down minimal rights for all citizens of Malta (and beyond) carry with them a right not to associate besides a right to associate, and any local law or policy which runs counter to the principle that any person has the right not to form part of a union or employer's body is in my opinion, voidable by our courts.”