28th April 2020

Etched into the annals of history, International Workers’ Day has established itself as an annual commemoration of all that has been achieved – and is to be achieved – in the world of work. Originally serving as a remembrance of the Chicago Haymarket Riots of 1886, which saw the death of several workers and policemen in demonstrations advocating for the 8-hour day, the Workers’ Day movement has spread across most of the world’s countries as a day of celebration of national  and global achievements in terms of workers’ rights.

In Malta, owing to the state’s Christian roots, the 1st of May also gives heed to St Joseph the Worker, patron saint of all workers, in line with this international movement. On this day, Malta also commemorates its accession to the EU, which historic event endowed workers with a plethora of entitlements and protections previously thought unimaginable prior to such accession.

Officially declared as a nationwide public holiday, together with most countries in the world, the 1st of May sees Malta recognise its workers’ contribution to the development of society, and the consequent need to ensure their safety and security – now more than ever.

As we celebrate this day in the midst of a pandemic that has locked entire swathes of the earth’s populations inside their homes in an effort to contain its spread, we acknowledge the effects that the current situation has had on working life. Several entities have adopted new teleworking arrangements for their employees (or have continued to expand such arrangements as already in place).  The efficiency and effectiveness of online meetings has been explored, possibly resulting in an eye-opener as to the viability of occasional teleworking for employees who request it. The benefits thereof has also resulted in a global realisation that a great deal of the time and money wasted on daily commutes to the workplace and on short business trips can be avoided in the future, furthermore reducing our carbon footprint in an effort to save the environment.

On the other side of the coin, one cannot fail to acknowledge the importance of our essential workers, most especially our medical staff. From helpline operators to the top medical professors treating patients stricken by the coronavirus and other ailments, all medical staff are working round the clock to ensure the health and safety of all citizens, together with the police and the armed forces who are working long hours to ensure the public’s compliance with all health and safety measures currently in force. One must neither forget those who must still commute to work on a daily basis to ensure that all basic daily needs are catered for; manufacturers, supermarket tellers, delivery-persons.  On this note, we cannot help but realise the irony of celebrating essential workers when a great deal of them are paid meagre salaries – may this period serve as a revelation as to which workers are indeed essential, and should therefore be recognised as such?

In this period of unprecedented stress, both in terms of the economy and people, a great deal of employers must be applauded for their commendable efforts in ensuring the retention of their workers’ employment and their efforts to make alternative arrangements for them to the best of their abilities, with some even reaching into their own pockets to help their employees financially.  In recent years, the safeguarding of employees’ mental health has never been as important and as necessary as it is now, and thus the 1st of May should not only serve as a day to recognise workers’ strife, but also to praise employers who are doing their utmost to help their employees, and to call upon others to follow suit.

Whilst this pandemic has affected the working world as we know it to quite a considerable extent, we are always prepared to get to grips with such major developments. In fact, Advisory 21 is working hard on creating tailor-made online training courses and webinars in line with such changes, whilst the 21 Law team is always ready to help you with all your employment law related questions and queries.

This short presentation was prepared by Advisory 21 on the occasion of International Workers’ Day 2020