Malta Public Transport, the company which runs the bus service, has engaged a foreign company to supply it with enough bus drivers to keep up with surging demand.
The bus service became free of charge on October 1, which coincided with a traditionally busy period marked by the reopening of schools and increased traffic congestion of the roads.
Malta Public Transport has engaged Oasis Workforce Solutions, a UK-based bus driver company, which has, so far, supplied 15 drivers. They were employed for periods of three to six months.
A quick internet search shows that the UK company is offering its drivers around three times the salary Malta Public Transport pays its own employees.
A driver employed directly with Malta Public Transport gets €7.34 per hour while a driver employed by the foreign agency is being offered up to £19.50 (€22.64) per hour to drive the same buses.
Bus drivers employed directly with Malta Public Transport also enjoy allowances, performance bonuses and other benefits which add up to around a €19,345 annual salary. That amount excludes overtime pay, a spokesperson for Malta Public Transport said in reply to questions.
The locally-engaged drivers are also usually employed on longer-term working contracts.
In one job-seeking website, the UK company is promising a potential income of more than £1,000 per week plus overtime for drivers who want to give it a shot in the “hot, sunny climate working with great people on beautiful Malta”.
The UK-engaged drivers are also being offered free accommodation for the duration of their employment here. While they will earn around three times as much as their counterparts, they will be asked to return to their country when peak season demand dwindles. That makes the post far less attractive in terms of job security.
Asked about the discrepancy in hourly pay, the spokesperson for Malta Public Transport denied any discrimination or illegality, defending its workers’ employment conditions and explaining that the company “enters into an agreement with the [UK company] and is not privy to the individual contracts with the supplier’s employees”.
“Subcontractors are responsible for vacation leave, sick leave, national insurance, allowances, statutory bonuses, performance bonuses, injury leave and any other expenses that they would have to incur as an employer and these are included in the outsourcing charge.
“All this is done within the parameters of local and international legal frameworks,” the spokesperson said.
“Malta Public Transport is an equal opportunities employer that employs around 1,300 employees across its operations.
“Employment conditions for all its workforce are published in a collective agreement and do not discriminate on the basis of nationality, gender, religious beliefs or anything else.”
She said that, during seasonal peaks, the company also engages in such sub-contracts with other firms to seek other workers like cleaners, mechanics and “various other jobs”.
Scheme to encourage more drivers to work overtime
“At the same time, Malta Public Transport has also launched an initiative for its existing bus drivers who would like to work overtime, especially during seasonal peaks.”
Through this initiative, bus drivers receive an allowance over and above the regular overtime rate as stipulated by law.
“Just like the outsourced bus drivers in the contingency plan, this initiative aims to secure enough human resources to deliver the public transport service without interruptions, for the benefit of all passengers,” she said.
Oasis Workforce Solutions Limited said they have a subcontracting agreement with Malta Public Transport to supply drivers for a minimum period of three months.
“The indications are that the maximum timeframe will be six months,” Paul Watson, head of transport at Oasis Workforce Solutions said.
“We are not a recruitment agency but a subcontracting company and these drivers will not be MPT employees but our employees like any other subcontracting contract. We currently have 15 drivers performing duties in Malta on contracts that are fully compliant with legislation in both Malta and the UK.”
Registrations for new Tallinja cards, which entitle the holders to free transport, rose by 50 per cent in the lead-up to October 1.
The company said it registered over 6,700 new cards in September, up from the monthly average of 4,000.