Zero-hour Contracts of Employment: A Common, but Unregulated Practice in Malta

Updated: June 2020

Zero-hour contracts of employment (also known as “key time contracts” or “casual workers”) are a category of employment contracts popular with industries such as hotels and catering due to the level of flexibility they provide for an employer who may experience seasonal increase in work.

A zero-hour contract of employment does not specify the number of hours which the employee may be required to work per week and does not oblige the employer to provide any minimum working hours. In fact, the same employee is only required to be available to perform his/her duties whenever the employer so requests. Therefore, employees are not guaranteed work on a regular basis, as the hours of work can vary each week and there may also be zero hours within a week. In this respect, the respective employees are only paid for the number of hours worked per week and thus, such contracts do not guarantee a steady income for employees.

Although the use of zero-hour contracts of employment has become common practice in Malta, the mentioned category of contracts of employment are not regulated in terms of Maltese Law. As a consequence, several issues arise with respect to the use of zero-hour contracts of employment, especially with respect to the conditions of employment applicable and the level of protection which has to be granted to the casual workers.

In fact, it is not clear whether employees who are a party to a zero-hour contract of employment are 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 relevant regulations with respect to the minimum weekly wage to be paid to full-time, and part-time employees working in Malta are also applicable to casual workers. Additionally, the law does not provide for vacation and sick leave entitlements with respect to mentioned employees.

In practice, casual workers are usually given a pro-rata entitlement to sick leave, vacation leave, statutory bonuses and any other entitlements stipulated by law. Such pro rata entitlement would be calculated on the basis of the average number of hours worked every 13 weeks.  One should also note that an employer has no legal obligation to pay social security contributions on behalf of employees who work less than 8 hours a week.

In view of the above-mentioned legislative gap, most of the terms and conditions of employment relating to zero-hour contracts are essentially based on the contractual agreement entered into between the employer and the employees.

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