A new general trade union called Solidarjeta’ is up and running as of today.
The union is to have a dedicated sub-section which focuses specifically on the rights of tenants and is set to provide direct support to its members by fighting for higher wages, tackling the erosion of spending power for workers struggling to make ends meet, housing affordability, and a shorter working week, according to a press release sent out by the union this morning.
The formation of the new union – and in particular, its targeted focus on the rights of tenants – is a welcome development in a country where landlords often make the news for price-gouging, cramming dozens of individuals into tiny apartments, and relentless speculative buying that inevitably makes the housing market more inaccessible for everyone else.
“The trade union is proactively organising workers facing increasingly precarious conditions, aiming to create an environment where workers are empowered to take direct action to enhance their situation. Tenants will have a dedicated section with an elected representative in the executive council,” the press statement reads.
“Meanwhile, the tenant section of the union is assisting members directly through direct negotiations with landlords and agents to improve their living conditions, getting back their rightful deposit and ensuring landlords are not abusing the law,” the statement continues.
Solidarjeta’s president, Matthew Attard, partly welcomed the government’s recent proposals which are intended to limit overcrowding in rental homes and clamp down on abusive landlords. However, the union’s president also sounded the alarm about how other parts of the government’s amendment are nonetheless “pro-landlord”.
When asked to provide an example, Attard singled out how the proposal also includes a clause which triples the window of time in which a landlord is allowed to register the contract. Currently, the law states that a housing contract must be registered with the housing authority within ten days. Should the amendment be allowed to go through as is, that window will be extended to 30 days.
The union’s president argued that in instances where a third-country national would be pressed for time to obtain a registered housing contract to ensure they don’t fall foul of the legally-binding time frames within which they can obtain a working residence permit in Malta, “20 extra days are a lot”.
“Over the coming months, the union will push to continue strengthening the private residential leases act so that tenants have a more secure, stable and affordable place to live,” Attard added.
Besides including contact points for individuals who are interested in forming part of this union, Solidarjeta’s website includes a sub-section dedicated to providing information about tenants’ rights, “ensuring tenants have ready access to vital information”.
The newly formed union will certainly have its work cut out for itself. While an uninformed observer may be forgiven for thinking that a trade union should have an easy time with a government that proclaims itself to be socialist ‘at heart’ (read: not really), a brief analysis conducted by this website in November of last year showed that the government repeatedly failed to address the concerns of major trade union bodies who accused the relevant ministries of “dragging their feet” in collective agreement negotiations.
From 2021 to November 2023, trade unions in Malta issued at least 18 industrial directives, most of which were issued following stagnation in the negotiation proceedings. The government’s steamroller approach towards union directives affected a wide range of professions – the analysis showed that in those two years alone, unions issued directives to healthcare professionals, educators, architects, engineers, police officers, diplomats, traffic wardens and Transport Malta officials, environmental health officers, Gozo Channel employees, and Air Malta employees, to name a few.