The job contracts of non-EU workers employed as food couriers or taxi drivers are being reviewed by the state employment agency over concerns they may not be in line with the law.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said an extensive review of the contracts is being conducted by JobsPlus, the state employment agency which he himself had previously headed, after irregularities were flagged a few weeks ago.   

Under Malta’s employment rules, non-EU nationals, often referred to as ‘third country nationals’, must be employed on a full-time contract basis.

Many drivers and couriers working for companies like Bolt and Wolt are self-employed or engaged part time.

Times of Malta understands that around half of the food couriers and cab drivers working on such platforms in Malta are on these kind of contracts – but it is not clear how many are third-country nationals.

“It is very clear [in the law] that third-country nationals cannot be self-employed unless they have their own business and have invested a significant amount of capital,” Caruana said.

“So, with respect to people who provide delivery services, they have to be employed full-time and their contracts must reflect this – there are no two ways about it,” Caruana said.

“JobsPlus is looking into these contracts and making sure that the points that are dictated by the laws that govern such employment relationships are there.”

Photo: ShutterstockPhoto: Shutterstock

Food delivery and other courier services exploded in Malta during 2020 as the coronavirus pandemic forced more people to stay at home.

The sight of motorcyclists zipping through traffic to deliver meals has become increasingly common. However, in recent days, those same drivers are being pulled over by work inspectors asking for their papers.

Third country nationals cannot be self-employed unless they have their own business

Caruana said that once the review is concluded, the government’s position will be communicated to the parties involved.

Contracts that do not meet the full-time status requirement for third-country nationals will have to be changed or considered unlawful, Caruana said. 

“There is no problem with these drivers being third-country nationals. The most important thing is that these workers have to be in line with what employment law specifies, at least in terms of pay, leave, sick leave and so on. They cannot have zero-hour contracts for instance,” he said.

A zero-hour contract means the employer is under no obligation to provide minimum working hours.

Legal Notice 44 of 2012 lists a set of criteria concerning the legal status of employed workers. If the working relationship between the worker and the employer fulfils the criteria laid out, then that worker is a legal employee within the company.

Times of Malta understands that a number of non-EU delivery and cab drivers have been brought before the Immigration Appeals Board in recent months after their contracts were found not to meet the full-time employment criteria.  

Questions sent to the board, which has the final say on whether third-country nationals are deported from the country, have remained unanswered.  

Meanwhile, Sebastian Ripard, CEO of TXF Tech, partners for Bolt in Malta, said that Bolt was working with JobsPlus to make sure that self-employed couriers engaged with them are “in good standing”.

Bolt Food, he said, holds an ‘Express Mail Service’ licence regulated by the local authorities.

“We strive to comply with regulations and are absolutely ready to collaborate with government and authorities,” he said.

Ripard said Bolt engaged restaurants and couriers on a contractual basis. Some couriers are engaged as self-employed individuals, working for themselves on their own time schedule.

Others are employed by recruitment agencies who in-turn provide a service as an independent business or contractor, he said.

“This business model is common in the construction industry whereby consumers either engage a self-employed tradesperson or hire a turn-key contractor,” Ripard said.

Asked about the contractual engagement between couriers and recruitment agencies, Bolt argues that it is the responsibility of these agencies to ensure that they provide their couriers with legal contracts.

As for self-employed couriers, Bolt says it is the individual’s responsibility to make sure that they are eligible to work as self-employed.

Tomas Mikalauskas, who heads RecruitGiant, one of Malta’s largest employment agencies, said it was not privy to the internal reviewing procedures of JobsPlus.

“However, please rest assured that RecruitGiant carries out its work with the highest ethical standards and works to abide by all the legal obligations pursuant to the laws of Malta,” he said.

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