The Association of Catering Establishments appreciates that Malta needs to increase the number of tourists in order to sustain its economy as already communicated in various statements. The opening of the Malta International Airport together with the promotion engaged into are important steps in the right direction. However, this does not mean that Malta loses sight of the situation.
The recent COVID-19 spread during mass events which were permitted to be held also within a local accommodation establishment brings to question the relevance of strict social distancing and other measures which have been imposed on independent restaurants.
We have, over recent days, all been exposed to coverage of the events which saw a numerous number of individuals in close proximity to each other for a prolonged time period. This makes one question, firstly, whether the 2- and 3-metre table spacing guidelines which have been retained for catering establishments are actually required, considering that the same patrons are permitted to engage closely in other spaces, and secondly, whether these are unjustly applied considering the masses allowed within hotel establishments and around hotel restaurants.
This occurrence follows a string of other notable disparate treatments of independent catering establishments compared with their accommodation counterparts, dating back decades.
Operating as part of the accommodation establishment, restaurants within hotels are unjustly favoured in terms of employment legislation, which amongst others requires employees engaged within hotel restaurants to fall under the umbrella of accommodation establishments and be compensated at their standard hourly rate, regardless of whether it is a Sunday or Public Holiday, as long as they fall within their whole time working hours.
On the other hand, independent restauranteurs are required to compensate their employees at double the basic rate on Sundays and public holidays (regardless of whether these relate to an employee’s 1st working hour or after the 40th working hour). This work regulation order dates back to 1992, since which date there have been no improvements in this regard, regardless of the over 3,400 catering licenses (only figures licensed by MTA) and over 40,000 catering employees who are involved in the industry (as well as the direct effect on wholesalers and other operators falling within the restaurant’s supply chain). The work regulation order addressing independent restaurants is based on the factory manufacturing model when it should not be.
Similarly, this year, we note that persons employed within hotel restaurants remained eligible for a monthly €800 wage supplement, whilst the supplement relating to independent restaurant employees was decreased to €600 per month. Whilst acknowledging that any subsidy is being appreciated by restauranteurs (including the voucher incentive), this does not detract from the fact that there is no evidence that independent restaurants are attracting sufficiently higher levels of business to hotel restaurants (if at all) to justify a lower supplement being provided.
Ever since reopening restaurant doors on 22 May 2020, following COVID-19 lockdown measures, catering establishments have been inundated with spot-checks and inspections from the Malta Tourism Authority, however it appears that efforts made in the catering industry are irrelevant, as patrons are enabled to gather en masse at touristic accommodation establishments, which do not appear to suffer the same level of scrutiny.
It is time the relevant entities, particularly the Malta Tourism Authority, the Ministry for Tourism, and the Ministry for Health, re-evaluate their positions and level the playing fields for hotels and restaurants, and particularly hotel restaurants and independent restaurants. Independent restaurants, like hotel restaurants and hotels themselves, have also been heavily invested in by their operators and represent the livelihood of many.