Vulnerable people working in the civil sector have expressed concerns for their health and safety after they were told that they do not have the option to work remotely despite rising cases of COVID-19 in Malta.
In April, during the height of the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Principal Permanent Secretary Mario Cutajar issued Directive 13 which allowed for public service employees to work from home (teleworking) in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus.
The directive remained valid until 2nd June when it was repealed by Directive 13.2. During this time, COVID-19 cases had decreased and the country would soon repeal its public health emergency and open its ports to international travel.
However, the landscape has changed drastically since then with COVID-19 cases reaching an all-time high.
Yet, despite the pandemic being worse now than ever before, now public sector workers no longer have the same privilege to work from home as they once did.
“We were specifically told that since the directive has not been reissued we can’t work from home,” a vulnerable public service employee told Lovin Malta.
“There are government departments and divisions which do not allow their employees to work remotely, claiming they have no legal basis or instructions to do so since there is no public emergency.”
“Many civil servants, including those who are vulnerable or come from vulnerable households and need to protect their families and loved ones, are unable to work remotely and have to go to the office business as usual.”
“This means that those who wish to protect themselves/their households have to consider other options such as taking leave, leave without pay or career breaks (without pay) until the situation stabilises, as they have now run out of options,” the employee said.
Speaking to Lovin Malta, Cutajar refused to comment on whether vulnerable public service employees are being refused the option to work remotely, claiming that employees are able to apply for teleworking via their managers.
“The general direction within the public sector is that requests by employees for teleworking should be acceded to by management as much as possible while taking every possible measure to retain the standards of service delivery to clients,” he said.
“Moreover, employees who feel that their request for teleworking was unfairly denied can resort to the One Stop Shop for public officers and their grievance would surely be given the necessary attention and action taken as deemed necessary,” he ended.
However, teleworking isn’t a guarantee that employees can work from home as it is subject to approval, requires a fixed contract period and can take up to eight weeks to be approved.
Responding to Prime Minister Robert Abela’s budget proposal, workers’ union UĦM Voice of the Workers also expressed concern over the lack of reference to the future of teleworking/remote working.
“There are several workers, especially those employed by the government, who are feeling ignored when their work can be done from the comfort of their home without threats to health and safety,” it said in a press release.
“The UĦM Voice of the Workers calls on the government to adopt a clear policy on telework and that position should be that everyone should be given the option to telework unless there’s a justified reason not to.”
Earlier today, Superintendent of Public Health Charmaine Gauci made reference to Directive 13, advising employees to institute a work from home policy when feasible, but the decision remains with the employer.
Do you think Directive 13 should be reinstated? Let us know in the comments below