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Factsheet for measure MT-2002-52/2608 – measures in Malta

Different conditions of employment in exceptional circumstances

Different conditions of employment in exceptional circumstances

Country Malta , applies nationwide
Time period Open ended, started on 27 December 2002
Context COVID-19, Restructuring Support Instruments
Type Legislations or other statutory regulations
Category Employment protection and retention
– Working time flexibility
Author Luke Anthony Fiorini (University of Malta) and Eurofound
Measure added 23 June 2022 (updated 14 November 2022)

Background information

The Employment and Industrial Relations Act (2002) states that employers may use this instrument which permits different conditions of employment in 'exceptional cases'. However, the act does not elaborate on the definition of 'exceptional'. The Director of Industrial and Employment Relations, who is the government-appointed person responsible for protecting the interests of lawfully engaged workers in accordance to the established labour laws, has the authority to determine which cases qualify as exceptional. The role of the Director also includes actively promoting a healthy relationship with social partners and contributing to stable industrial relations.

Content of measure

The act does not specify which conditions of employment may be changed, and there is no publicly available information on all the individual cases in which this clause was implemented. However, some cases involved the reduction of working time or the postponement in the payment of wages. For this special measure to be implemented, it must be approved by the Director responsible for employment and industrial relations. Although the said act stipulates that approval needs to be reviewed every four weeks and that this measure is ‘temporary’, it does not specify a limit that restrains the repeated use of this instrument.

Flexible employment contracts may relieve employers from some financial pressure during difficult times. By reducing the number of redundancies, companies can move back to normal operations quicker when international demand for goods increases. In 2009, the Minister for Finance validated this claim by stating that the government's direct assistance to firms which ran into problems due to the international economic crisis resulted in saving a total of 2,000 jobs. This instrument’s increase in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic continues to reinforce its relevance. Since one cannot predict when a particular company or undertaking is going to experience financial difficulties or lack of orders this measure could be instrumental as it allows that particular company to adopt measures such as operating a four day week to avoid redundancies. The Department of Industrial and Employment Relations believes that this instrument will retain its relevance and the criteria governing this instrument are expected to remain as they are for the foreseeable future.

Its downside is that some employers may occasionally try to use this regulation inappropriately, by falsely claiming exceptional circumstances to lower employees' working conditions. However, it remains the sole responsibility of the Director of Industrial and Employment Relations whether to accept or reject such claims.

Use of measure

This regulation, which has been used effectively many times since its inception, has become particularly important during the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact between March and May 2020, the Department for Industrial and Employment Relations has issued around 800 approvals to employers to implement different conditions of employment other than those specified in the act, per the provisions of article 42. This is the greatest recorded increase, far greater than that witnessed during the 2008 international economic crisis. Data obtained from the Department of Industrial and Employment Relations (DIER) for that period reveals that entities adopting this measure had then reached a high in 2009 with a total of 148 implementing this instrument. In 2010, there were 61 employers were utilising this instrument, gradually decreasing to 32 by 2014. During 2015, only four employers made use of this instrument. In February 2016 and April 2018, approval was granted to a company to reduce its working hours to a four-day week, consisting of 32 hours. This measure was implemented to avoid redundancies as this company experienced a lack of demand for its services resulting in a difficulty to pay wages. In 2016, another company was granted permission to pay its July wages in September and to pay its August wages in October as the company was facing financial difficulties due to logistical issues with a foreign client.

Target groups

Workers Businesses Citizens
Employees in standard employment
Applies to all businesses Does not apply to citizens

Actors and funding

Actors Funding
National government
Trade unions
Employers' organisations
National funds

Social partners

Social partners' role in designing the measure and form of involvement:

Trade unions Employers' organisations
Role Consulted Consulted
Form Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies Consultation through tripartite or bipartite social dialogue bodies

Social partners' role in the implementation, monitoring and assessment phase:

  • Unknown
  • Main level of involvement: Unknown


This measure is enshrined in Maltese Labour Law. This legislation was passed after consultation with the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development (MCESD) which is Malta’s main advisory council which is a tripartite body composed of government, unions and employers' representatives. Their task is to issues opinions and recommendations to the Maltese government and formulate solutions.

Views and reactions

Presumed supportive, as it provides a viable alternative to mass redundancies in times of crises.



Eurofound (2022), Different conditions of employment in exceptional circumstances, measure MT-2002-52/2608 (measures in Malta), EU PolicyWatch, Dublin,


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Disclaimer: This information has not been subject to the full Eurofound evaluation, editorial and publication process.