Trade Unions

This page was last updated on: 2021-09-17

Freedom to Join and Form a Union

In accordance with the article 42 of the Constitution, "no person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of peaceful assembly and association, that is to say, his right peacefully to assemble freely and associate with other persons and in particular to form or belong to trade or other unions or associations for the protection of his interests".

A workers' trade union or employers' association must be registered first before performing any other act for furtherance of purpose for which it is formed. For registration of a union, only seven members are needed. Workers must at least be 16 years of age in order to become union members.

Sources: §42 of the Constitution of Malta 1964, last amended in 2015; §49-60 of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act

Freedom of Collective Bargaining

Collective bargaining in Malta takes place at company level at least in the private sector. Only the public sector normally negotiates common conditions across a range of workplaces. The collective agreements are negotiated "between an employer, or one or more organisations of employers, and one or more organizations of employees regarding conditions of employment in accordance with the provisions of any law in force in Malta". There is no other provision in the Employment and Industrial Relations Act on defining collective agreements are, their contents and how the collective bargaining is done within the scope of law.

The Act refers to collective agreements only when it talks about the applicability of the minimum wage and the sector-specific provisions of the Employment Relations Board, in the absence of collective agreements. The law also provides that provisions of collective agreements are legally binding.

The Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD), established in 2001, is an advisory council that issues opinions and recommendations to the Maltese government on matters of economic and social relevance.  In view of this, the MCESD's vision is one of continuous improvement of Social Dialogue. It is a tripartite plus committee and has members from workers, employers, government and other civil society organizations. The Council, composed of 14 members, is competent to promote social dialogue and consensus amongst all the social partners on issues relating to sustainable economic and social development.

Employment and Industrial Relations Act provides for Employment Relations Board which is composed of four members each from worker and employer organizations, three members appointed by the Minister and an independent chairperson. The functions of the Board include the following: to make recommendations to the Minister as to any national minimum standard conditions of employment for eventual inclusion in a national standard order; to make recommendations to the Minister as to any sectoral conditions of employment for eventual inclusion in a sectoral regulation order; to advise the Minister on any matter relating to conditions of employment, or on any matter referred to the Board by the Minister.

Source: Malta Council for Economic and Social Development Act 2001; §3 of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act

Right to Strike

Legal immunity is granted when an action is taken in furtherance of a trade dispute. industrial action, i.e., strike or lockout in pursuit of a trade dispute is legitimate and sanctioned by law. Peaceful picketing is also allowed under the Act.

Only a registered union can convene a strike after registration of the existence of a trade dispute. If a trade dispute exists or is apprehended, the parties to the dispute may agree to refer the dispute to Director of Employment & Industrial Relations or a conciliator. Industrial action is legitimate unless it violates the procedural terms of a collective agreement.

The following groups of workers employed in essential services may not take part in collective action:
Air Traffic Controllers and at the Airport Fire Fighting Section, both at the Malta International Airport; members of the Assistance and Rescue Force set up in terms of the Civil Protection Act; minimum staff required to guarantee port safety and emergency services, including pilotage, mooring, tug services, fire-fighting, medical health services and pollution-combat services; minimum staff required to guarantee that life is not endangered through the non-importation and discharge into Malta of wheat, grain, domestic gas, aviation fuel, diesel, petrol and oil fuel for the operation of air transport facilities, power generation and water; such minimum number of persons to guarantee the continued production, provision and distribution of water and electricity; and such number of public officers listed in the First Schedule of the Act and engaged in offices which are required to be manned at all times. This Schedule has a list of medical staff that cannot engage in industrial action.

Sources: §63-68 of the Employment and Industrial Relations Act

Regulations on Trade Unions

  • Constitution of Malta 1964, last amended in 2014
  • Employment and Industrial Relations Act (CAP. 452)