Companies are struggling to cope with a surge in COVID-related worker absenteeism, the Malta Employers’ Association warned on Wednesday.

A survey conducted among MEA members showed that 32 per cent respondents reported an absence rate higher than 15 per cent. 

A total of 58 per cent of respondents said they are coping with absenteeism through teleworking where possible, while 51 per cent said they had to reduce operations. 

The survey was conducted amongst 325 respondents and covered companies operating in all sectors of the economy. 

Virus cases have spiked in the past three weeks, driven by the highly contagious Omicron variant.

"The fact that the spike in the number of positive Covid cases during the past three weeks has also amplified the number of employees who have been in primary contact with such cases has led to a dramatic increase in absenteeism because of quarantine," the MEA said.

"The disruption in business activity will have a negative impact on GDP and government finances, given that the wage supplement will have to be extended to at least the first quarter of 2022 to many businesses as a result."

The government has modified quarantine rules to allow people who have received booster vaccine doses to return to normal life after 10 days rather than the previous 14. 

Prime Minister Robert Abela has said that the wage supplement, which is due to expire at the end of the month, will be extended beyond January for "certain sectors". 

But lobbyists and unions have pushed for rules to be relaxed even further, citing examples overseas, and warned that the new rules will spark confusion.

The MEA also urged the authorities to re-examine measures in place, "to ensure that they are commensurate with the risk level of the pandemic."

It said it is also important that issues that have risen at the workplace due to ambiguous regulations are clarified to avoid unnecessary absence and industrial unrest which comes at a great cost to employers.

The Malta Chamber of SMEs has called for the government to cut quarantine for symptomatic COVID patients to just five days and end isolation requirements for vaccinated people in contact with cases. 

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