COVID-19 has now entered its third calendar year. While we have all seen first-hand, and discussed at length, the effect that the pandemic has had on our health and economic situation, the effect that COVID-19 has had on industrial relations might have been generally overlooked.

The worst impact that COVID-19 has left among us is surely that experienced by those families who have unfortunately lost their loved ones. Our common goal has always been that of limiting these tragedies. Thus, the health authorities have been updating restrictions to curtail the spread more effectively and protect our citizens. However, this also comes at a cost to our businesses.

The government has intervened by establishing a COVID-19 wage supplement that eased the burden on wages and salaries at a time when our businesses were experiencing disruption, acute losses and lack of demand. This measure has been extended as needed multiple times.

This supplement was accompanied by other measures, including postponement of tax payments and subsidies on electricity and rent bills. While this comes at a cost, this government truly believes that leaving our businesses to fend for themselves was never an option.

This doing-what-it-takes attitude was, however, not limited to government efforts against this pandemic. We have seen thousands of nurses, health workers and other essential public officers going above and beyond what was expected of them even if this might have caused more risks to them.

Throughout this ‘war’ against this pandemic, our frontliners have committed their lives for months on end to protect others. Some have physically left their families behind and lived in separate accommodation. They have been in close proximity to positive cases and they have worked interminable extra hours; surely situations that have caused discomfort but which had to be faced.

The same is expected of employees within the wider public service. The same is expected of our teachers, the staff in our shops and all others who contribute to the running of our economy. We needed, and still need to, dig deep, fight back and give it our all in this national effort to win over this pandemic.

While all this was going on, we also witnessed school closures that pushed parents to stay home to mind their kids. This meant the exclusion of those parents from the workforce and a direct effect on their workplaces. Things were exacerbated substantially over the last weeks due to the spike in cases because of the Omicron wave.

Engaging in a destructive tug of war between trade unions and employers could be dangerous- Carmelo Abela

While I understand fully that the last two years have been a nightmare for almost all business owners, with the majority having been resilient and supportive of their employees, I expect that this spirit of determination is maintained today. 

It is important to remember that the government has also enacted the support measure on quarantine leave, which has already disbursed hundreds of thousands of euros in payments to employers who have paid their employees in quarantine.

What we truly need to avoid at this crossroads is to barricade ourselves behind personal self-interest and forget about the wider well-being of our society and communities. Engaging in a strictly destructive tug of war between trade unions and representatives of employers at this juncture could be truly dangerous. This is even more the case when this game ends up being played over people’s livelihoods. 

We need to continue being mindful of each other’s challenges and be open to discussing emerging issues. Initial conflicting standpoints have been many a time transformed in working compromises and I am confident that this can be attained now, and in the future, as long as we remain open to it.

Our relative industrial peace has long been one of the major attractiveness elements to our economy. Let’s do our very best to protect it as it is only through such collaboration that we can forge ahead in the pandemic and post-pandemic reality.

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