Zero-hours Contracts of Employment: A Common, but not Regulated Practice in Malta

In Malta, many employees benefit from flexible working time arrangements, such as, amongst other, those relating to the so-called zero-hours contracts of employment (also known as “key time contracts”) which allow employees to balance their work and home life.

As opposed to any other employment agreement, a zero-hours contract of employment does not specify the number of hours which the employee may be required to work per week. In fact, the same employee is only required to be available to perform his/her duties whenever the employer so requests. Therefore, they are not guaranteed to work on a regular weekly working time basis, as the hours of work can vary each week. In this respect, the respective employees are only paid for the number of hours weekly worked.

Although the use of zero-hours contracts of employment have become common practise in Malta, the mentioned category of contracts of employment are not regulated in terms of Maltese Law. As a consequence, several issues have arisen with respect to the use of zero-hours contracts of employment, especially with respect to conditions of employment and the level of protection which, have to be granted to all of the employees involved.

Amongst other issues, it is not clear whether employees who are party to a zero-hours contract of employment are or are not entitled to be paid for the time spent at the company’s premises and/or at home, while waiting to be called into work. Moreover, it is not clear whether Regulations with respect to the minimum weekly wage to be paid to full-time, and part-time employees working in Malta have to also be applied to employees engaged under a zero-hours contract of employment. Additionally, the law does not provide for vacation and sick leave entitlements with respect to mentioned employees, and how their working-time has to be calculated in order to determine the qualifying period for the said entitlements

In view of the above-mentioned legislative gap, most of the terms and conditions of employment relating to zero-hours contracts are essentially based on the contractual agreement entered into between the employer and the employees. In this respect, employers use to provide their employees with a full-detailed company’s policy stating all the flexible working time arrangements which, can be requested by/granted to employees, including those relating to the said zero-hours contracts of employment. This policy is normally drafted by employers with the assistance of lawyers specialised in the respective area.

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