Trade unions insist quarantine leave should be paid in full

An Iranian man wears a protective mask to prevent contracting coronavirus, as he walks on a street in Tehran, Iran February 29, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency)/Nazanin Tabatabaee via REUTERS

Tista' taqra bil- Malti.

Malta’s two largest trade unions are adamant that workers who end up in quarantine – or self-quarantine – due to coronavirus concerns should be paid in full during the period.

Both the General Workers Union and the UĦM – Voice of the Workers believe that people could otherwise be placed at risk. The unions will be bringing the matter up when the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development meets on Thursday.

Loss of wages would discourage self-quarantine

In comments made to Newsbook.com, GWU general secretary Josef Bugeja welcomed agreements reached within the private sector to cover quarantine leave. However, he insisted that the union would not accept situations where workers would be forced to take unpaid leave.

Bugeja said that a failure to cover wages during a quarantine period would discourage workers from going on a self-quarantine whenever this is recommended, as it is for people who travel to places where cases of Covid-19 have been recorded. Workers would end up refusing to self-quarantine so that their livelihoods would not be affected, and possibly risk spreading the virus to others.

On a positive note, Bugeja noted that whenever the union asked for hand sanitisers, face masks and gloves to be supplied to employees, employers have always obliged so far.

People ‘can’t afford losing two weeks’ wages’

UĦM chief executive Josef Vella made a similar argument, questioning how a family could afford to lose two weeks’ wage to go on self-quarantine.

Going further, Vella said that quarantine should not be a choice, as one might choose not to take it, while emphasising that people shouldn’t be punished for going on quarantine through a loss of earnings.

The UĦM chief executive said that in this case, one could not afford to make distinctions between the private and public sector, and emphasised that the government should take all necessary measures to protect from the risk of a coronavirus outbreak.

Meanwhile, the Malta Union of Midwives and Nurses said that the quarantine imposed by government went against the Public Service Management Code in a communication to its members. However, the government has denied that this is the case.