Three leading employers’ associations have called on the Labour Party to drop its proposal for mandatory trade union membership with "immediate effect".

The Malta Employers Association (MEA), Malta Chamber of Commerce, and Chamber of SMEs all declared themselves against the proposal during a news conference on Wednesday morning. 

Labour's manifesto says it agrees "with the principle of mandatory membership in a trade union" and promises to start discussions "on the implementation of this measure."

MEA director-general Joseph Farrugia said the three associations are "completely against" the proposal and "consider it not open for discussion".

“Any decision to forge ahead may lead to a disruption in established social dialogue structures that already exist,” he warned.

“The way the proposal is written in the manifesto makes it clear that it has already been decided that trade union membership will be made mandatory, but we cannot agree with this," he said.

He argued that it goes against the European Charter of Human Rights, the Maltese constitution and the UN's Charter for Human Rights. 

Former European Commissioner Tonio Borg also argued that the proposal was unconstitutional in an opinion piece published in Times of Malta

But earlier this week during the Chamber of Commerce debate Finance Minister Clyde Caruana defended the proposal, arguing that unions help prevent the exploitation of employees.

However he appeared to row back on the term "mandatory", saying he did not believe the proposal will result in 100% worker unionisation rate, but will facilitate the process for workers who were hesitant to join a union because of any potential repercussions from their employers.

A controversial history

Previously, the General Workers Union (GWU) proposed all employees in Malta be obliged to join a trade union of their choice.

The proposal fuelled controversy and objections from employers’ associations, who insisted the proposal would only impinge on people’s rights. 

Farrugia said it was to be clear that employers are not against employees becoming members of a trade union, as it is a right that cannot be denied to any employee. 

“We believe employees should have the right to join a trade union, but also the right to not join one. Employers are in favour of strengthening social dialogue and the capacity of the social partners, including trade unions,” he said. 

He also pointed out that the associations were not attacking either political party and just because they are criticising one proposal, does not mean the whole electoral manifesto is at fault. 

“We are highlighting the proposal for forced membership as such a proposal can do more harm than good,” he said.

His comments were echoed by other members present at the conference, such as Malta Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Xuereb, who called the proposal "regressive". 

Chamber’s CEO Marthese Portelli and Chamber of SMEs CEO, Abigail Mamo  also claimed the proposal can have negative implications on businesses. 

High membership

Farrugia highlighted how Malta has a high number of declared trade union members, according to DIER, trade union membership in 2020/2021 stood at 107,000. In 1994, membership numbers were 87,000. 

Maltese context when it comes to declared trade union memberships throughout the years. Photo: MEA/FacebookMaltese context when it comes to declared trade union memberships throughout the years. Photo: MEA/Facebook

“Whilst numbers of members is increasing marginally every year, density may be declining because of foreign workers, many of whom are not unionised,” he explained. 

Despite this, he highlighted how trade union density in other countries is on the decline, explaining that this could be because of a growing "individualistic culture" and "over-regulated labour market". 

Farrugia also pointed out countries that have obligatory union membership, such as China, Iran, Iraq, Sudan and Saudi Arabia.

“Are these the countries we wish to associate ourselves with? Is Iran or Saudi Arabia the ideal model countries for our industry?”

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