As the world celebrated Worker’s Day, the General Workers’ Union reiterated its belief that mandatory union membership is necessary to help Maltese employees demand wages that represent the value they bring to the job and avoid being undercut by third-country nationals.

The GWU has been advocating for mandatory union memberships for quite some time now. In fact, this was originally included in the Labour Party’s manifesto before it was dropped after pressure from employers. The groups they want to help are indeed some of the most vulnerable.

Yet, is it realistic that the only way to help these people is by taking even more money out of their pocket through forced membership?

The question is: what are the unions doing to engage with potential members?

Or is mandatory membership simply an exercise to ensure that unions remain relevant today?

While I may not be part of the union’s target audience, I do have family members that were union members in the past, and yet I fail to see the value they supposedly bring to the masses. While I understand the member-to-play mentality, I do feel like we have culturally moved beyond that point.

Approximately 20 per cent of our workforce are foreign nationals. Have the unions, who have asked for these people to become mandatory members, done anything to help educate them about their rights, to engage them and to bring them into their respective communities?

Equally, have they sought to engage younger members of the population? I regularly meet younger people that turn to online content, such as blogs, YouTube and TikTok, in search of answers about employment-related questions. Here are some examples of comments on TikTok to a video about employee rights to paid vacation leave:

“Thank you so much, I am working three years now with my employer and I don’t have any vacation leave, even sick leave.”

“Thanks for the information. Some of us are being used because we barely know much about the law of Malta.”

“My employer keeps insisting that I am not entitled to vacation leave because I am a part-timer. What should I do?”

I regularly meet younger people that turn to online content in search of answers about employment-related questions- Jonathan Mifsud

This engagement can be brought about by various initiatives, such as workshops, seminars and online resources. Unions should also make themselves more visible and accessible to foreign nationals, who may not be familiar with the Maltese labour market.

Moreover, it is time for Jobsplus to consider requiring new employees to join an enrolment and integration course potentially in collaboration with respective unions.

This will ensure that all workers are aware of their rights and obligations under Maltese law and are equipped with the necessary knowledge to negotiate better wages and working conditions. That means they would be better equipped to fight for what is rightfully theirs.

Now, there may be many reasons why such a policy is not pursued, with Malta known for its lax position on a number of fronts. However, this situation currently benefits none other than dishonest employers.

On the other hand, the current processes adopted by Jobsplus and Identity Malta are known to be creating a lot of unregistered employment. Taking so long to process applications increases the chance of abuse.

It is high time that we look at provisional approval requiring immediate registration with the potential of withdrawal for anyone already in Malta.

This would ensure that all potential employees are registered and paid through payroll, reducing the possibility of abuse, with employers taking the risk of having to help these people move on if their application is refused.

In conclusion, I ask unions and those whose duty it is to protect employees to come together and devise a plan that reflects today’s reality.

To do so they need to put aside any differences and personal interests.

Yes, this process may make current operational models obsolete, however, it will give rise to new opportunities to adopt values that up to now have remained unattainable.

Jonathan Mifsud is the co-founder & CTO of Buddy, an HR & Payroll Software. He helps educate employees about their rights on TikTok channel BuddyPayroll.

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