Robert Abela DOI Clodagh O'Neil

Two of Malta’s largest business groups, the Malta Chamber of SMEs and The Malta Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry, have criticised a lack of communication in the lead up to the Government announcement of a timeline for the reopening of some of Malta’s business.

The staggered approach to the reopening of the economy and wider nation, announced by Prime Minister Robert Abela on Wednesday, notably included the reopening of schools, non-essential shops and services, and church masses.

However, further than the previously announced 1st June date when tourists are expected to return to Malta, definitive information was not provided on when restaurants and bars might be able to reopen. 

In a statement on Wednesday, the SME Chamber said that the Government announcement was “clearly a manifestation of the breakdown of social dialogue as to how such decisions are reached with complete disregard of social partners and the process of consultation”.

Additionally, it refers to “grey areas” in the recovery plan, which likely refers to the absence of a recovery plan for some parts of the economy, especially restaurants and bars.

Similarly, The Malta Chamber noted, “what certainly needs to improve is communication with social partners on the implementation and relaxation of restrictions”.

Additionally, “the Chamber expects that the date of reopening of establishments for which no timeline has been set yet is communicated soon to allow operators to plan accordingly”.

In these statements, the organisation echo the sentiment of other prominent business groups, including the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, and the Association of Catering Establishments which were “disappointed” that no date was provided for the reopening of restaurants.

Both chambers did, however, acknowledge positives to the plan.

The SME Chamber welcomed “visibility for some sectors”, which will allow those businesses to “plan and organise effectively”, and said that “this is an essential need” for those businesses already facing uncertainty. Additionally, it said it supports “in principle” a staggered re-opening.

The Malta Chamber noted that the restrictions announced in March have so far had the “desired effect” and commending the approach taken by the authorities, saying it supports that priority was given to the reopening of schools and that the reopening plan supports a staggered timeline.

Looking to the future, Malta Chamber of SMEs warned of additional stress placed on businesses, saying, “one cannot but feel a great level of worry and anguish at how businesses will continue to survive this extra stretch”.

“After a full year of hardship businesses started 2021 with big hopes”, it says, “and being closed during a time when business should be recovering is very hard to endure”.

“Some sectors have reached a very critical level and unless helped more will not make it into the recovery stage”, it said.

The Malta Chamber, on the other hand, presented a more positive message, asking for members of the public to take “personal responsibility”, and for every effort to be made in terms of enforcement “to ensure that cases do not overwhelm us again”.

“With the vaccine roll-out progressing at a steady pace, it is imperative that we continue working on reducing case numbers through social distancing measures, so that we may approach the summer in a favourable position to start reopening for tourism with appropriate visitor protocols,” it said.

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