Almost 600 cases before the Industrial Tribunal have been on hold for more than four months as Parliament has yet to approve changes to the law guaranteeing impartiality.

The government moved changes to the law after the court agreed with the General Workers’ Union that the tribunal chairman was “biased” towards one party, especially in cases involving a State entity, since the chairman was appointed by the government.

Parliament on Wednesday approved the Bill in second reading. The next step is to be discussed in committee stage but no date has been fixed yet.

The government is committed to addressing this backlog once the parliamentary process is finished

“The debate on the second reading has ended. Once the amendments are discussed and voted upon in committee [with the third reading remaining], the work of the Industrial Tribunal will resume,” a spokesman for the Social Dialogue Ministry said in reply to questions on the subject.

He said there were 577 cases pending before the Industrial Tribunal. A total of 313 of them concerned former Malta Drydocks employees, whose cases were pending since 2008.

“The government is committed to addressing this backlog once the parliamentary process is finished,” he said.

In the meantime, those who sought recourse to the Industrial Tribunal after losing their case have no idea when there could be disclosure.

“It’s very difficult from the psychological point of view. My clients and their families are going through a trauma. You cannot compare it to a pending criminal case, with the possibility that one day you’ll just end up in jail but it’s equally stressful,” a lawyer who works in the industrial relations field told the Times of Malta.

A judge had concluded in 2015 that various articles in the law setting up the Industrial Tribunal were in breach of the principle guaranteeing a fair hearing. The ruling was given in relation to two cases filed by the GWU challenging the tribunal’s impartiality.

One of the cases was about an Enemalta Corporation employee who was not being allowed to work shifts. In the other, the GWU was accused of terminating former section secretary Josephine Attard Sultana. The judgment was confirmed by the Appeal Court last February, throwing all pending cases into limbo.

The government had then asked the Attorney General to consult the social partners within the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development and draw up legal amendments to strengthen the guarantees of independence and impartiality of the Industrial Tribunal.

Amendments to the employment law included a guarantee for the security of tenure of the tribunal members, which increases the term of office from three to four years. The government also proposed that the Employment Relations Board be involved in the appointment of the Industrial Tribunal’s chairmen.

The Opposition had insisted that the Industrial Tribunal should be presided over by a magistrate to ensure impartiality.

matthew.xuereb@timesofmalta.com

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