UHM CEO brands policy as ‘illegal’ saying

it is not in line with law regulating such restrictions

The premises of the State broadcaster PBS have been designated by the management as being out of bounds for anybody not in possession of a valid vaccine certificate unless they re willing to pay from their own pocket to do a PCR test every week.

Rolled out on January 17, the “vaccination policy” has been described by UHM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella as “illegal” saying it goes beyond the provisions of the legal notice which regulates the matter. The State broadcaster, however, is insisting it has every right to impose such restriction due to the nature of its operations and to “offer a safe working environment”.

Sources who spoke with Voice of the Workers Weekly but preferred to remain anonymous warned that such measure goes beyond the provisions of Legal Notice 8 of 2022 which lists those places where access may only be granted on presentation of the vaccine certificate. 

“By law the employer in this particular place of work, which ultimately is the government, is not authorised to impose such restriction for the simple reason that the PBS studios do not fall in any of the categories listed in this legal notice,” the sources said.

“Moreover, the fact that such policy has been imposed by the government in a State entity raises concerns, that the measure may be extended to other public entities and eventually in the private sector” they added.

Asked for his reaction UHM CEO Josef Vella echoed these concerns.

“This policy does not reflect whatsoever the replies given last week within the Employment Relations Board whereby trade unions and employers were invited to submit their queries to the Superintendent for Public Health, the Occupational Health and Safety Authority and the Data Protection Commissioner.  During the meeting it was made amply clear that only those places listed in the legal notice are to take such measure. What is the point of holding these discussions, if some employers then decide to do as they please? Apart from fuelling confusion the PBS’ policy is of concern as it goes beyond the legal notice and impinges on workers’ rights,” he added.

The vaccination policy which was communicated to the PBS staff last week by the human resources department states bluntly that “anyone entering PBS premises (employees, freelancers, producers and guests) [are] to provide a valid vaccine certificate. Otherwise “individuals seeking an exemption from this requirement for justified reasons, should provide a weekly negative PCR test to the Administration Department,” the policy states. However, the employee would have to bear the costs which start from €35 for a rapid test.

In practice this means that anybody who has not taken the booster jab, is barred entry from the PBS premises unless they are willing to do a swab test every week.  Such measure is being justified on the grounds of maintaining “a workplace that is free of known hazards” to “to safeguard the health of our employees, their families and visitors, from infectious diseases that may be reduced by vaccinations”. However, no mention was made to the consequences which would be triggered in case employees would refuse to take the jab.

This portal sought an explanation from PBS on the legal grounds on which such policy rests and the advice, (if any) given by the Superintendence of Public Health.

In its reply, the State broadcaster dodged issues related to the legality of the policy and limited itself to saying that the decision was taken on the strength of “preliminary findings of an Occupational Health and Safety Assessment relating to the covid pandemic in its premises at this current stage”.

According to the PBS it is “well within its right to protect all of its employees and to offer a safe working environment”.  Yet, there are no provisions in the law which vest this particular type of employer, in this case PBS, with the authority to impose such restriction. The only places where such policy is to be enforced are bars, club or każini, restaurants, snack bars, cinema, theatres, casinos or bingo halls or gaming parlours, sports events, gym or fitness centres, public swimming pools, spas or saunas, organised mass events and exhibitions.

However, the PBS is justifying its policy saying it wants to avoid any possible disruptions of broadcasts which could be caused in the eventuality of having a large number of employees unable to report to work after contracting the virus. Such argument jars with the approach being taken by the government itself, as not even essential workers such as doctors, nurses, power station employees, police officers, port worker and teacher are being obliged to take the booster jab.