The Industrial Tribunal reform
The Industrial Tribunal reform has been on the agenda for years as part of an effort to modernise this institution to reflect the needs of a rapidly evolving labour market and address certain grey areas. This judicial body was set up in the mid-1970s to deal exclusively with cases involving breach of workers’ rights such as claims of unfair dismissal.
UĦM Voice of the Workers has been harping for years on the need to strengthen this body for it to enjoy greater trust among the people. However, this can only happen if it is completely independent of the Government and possess all necessary resources at hand. That is why this union is still insisting that the best way forward would be for this tribunal to be presided by a magistrate rather than a government-appointed chairman.
The present system may have been adequate when this tribunal was set up more than 40 years ago, but not nowadays when good governance, the rule of law and safeguarding the autonomy of independent institutions are considered as the fundamental pillars of a truly democratic State.
Moreover, this tribunal is having to handle an increasing workload for the simple reason that the Maltese labour market is growing at a fast pace.
Under the UĦM’s proposal, the tribunal will be given a higher profile at par with the Court of Magistrates. In practice, this would mean that cases would be presided by a full-time legal expert in industrial law. This will boost the confidence of the tribunal’s competence to all parties involved. Let us not forget this judicial body is vested with the authority to order financial compensation to the tune of thousands of euros.
This reform should also ensure that the tribunal has a dedicated building like other institutions such as the Family Court.
However, UĦM also believes that this reform should provide a framework for a genuine effort in favour of mediation prior to the dispute going to the tribunal. This should follow the model adopted by the Family Court some years back, by having people trained in mediation, and if necessary by enacting amendments to the law to provide for such remedy.
UĦM has resubmitted these proposals at a national conference organized by the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations, which discussed the future of the tribunal together with the social partners.
If Government really believes in this reform it must ensure that it is carried out in earnest as this will be another important step in strengthening the rule of law which is a pillar of industrial democracy.