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Some of Malta’s leading business lobbies have decried the upcoming introduction of a vaccination requirement for hospitality establishments.

The new rules, detailed in depth in a separate article, require all visitors and client-facing staff at hospitality establishments, including bars, restaurants, social clubs and snack bars, amongst others, to be fully vaccinated against COVID.

Business groups representing the hospitality industry have particularly taken issue with the requirement for staff to be vaccinated, predicting this will significantly aggravate existing staff shortages.

The Government did provide some consideration to this, requiring only client-facing staff to be vaccinated, but this was not enough for the lobby groups.

‘A hammer blow’ discriminating against the hospitality industry

In a press release on Friday, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association (MHRA) slammed the controversial move, characterising it as a “hammer blow” for the industry.

The association stated that the move to “single out the hospitality sector” left it feeling “anger and frustration,” pointing out that the new requirements are not being extended to other service provider.

The MHRA pointed out that the rules make the industry the sole “exception” to Government assurances that the mandate will not be extended to other service providers.

“Clearly, the Government does not appreciate the challenges we face on a daily basis to run the businesses,” it added.

A key contention of the organisation centres on the fact that the move will likely force unvaccinated workers out of the sector, which was already struggling with staff shortages, which it predicts will have a long-term effect on employment.

MHRA President Tony Zahra asserts that, “The latest decisions are baffling, and without proper reasoning on economic or scientific grounds from Government, so we have no choice but to state that the hospitality sector is being unfairly and rashly singled out”.  

‘Mandatory vaccination of staff is a no-go and we cannot impose it’

In comments responding to the new rules given to BusinessNow.mt, the Association of Catering Establishments (ACE) focused on the impact the new measure will have on staffing levels, calling the perceived vigilance on staff “unfair.”

According to ACE, the rule will continue to contribute to pre-existing human resources issues racking the sector, “in light of continuing difficulties to find staff.”

The organisation questioned whether it is even feasible to ask staff their vaccination status, saying it would “breach GDPR to even ask them” while adding that should employers present them with an ultimatum to get jabbed they will simply say: “no problem, I can’t work.”

The catering sector is already less and less appealing to prospective employees, it acknowledged, stating other sectors are “much more attractive,” reiterating that “these restrictions simply make it more difficult for us to attract staff.”

Despite its disappointment in the effects of the new vaccination requirement, ACE did acknowledge the upside of Thursday’s announcement, which included the lifting of mandatory distancing between tables in most establishments.

Employers facing a ‘headache’ in enforcing the rules on anti-vax staff

Marisa Xuereb, President of the Malta Chamber, presented a much more positive outlook on the announcement, focusing on the lifting of some capacity restrictions on restaurants, stating her belief that this would only be possible because everyone present, including staff and visitors, would be fully vaccinated.

“This will also increase confidence in people to go out to restaurants, and restaurants will no longer need to refuse people due to limited capacity,” she said.

While admitting that the requirement to check patrons’ vaccine certificates will entail additional work for a sector facing a crisis in staffing – “people are stretched to their limit” – Ms Xuereb said she believes the ability to operate at full capacity is “a big plus”.

“I think we need to acknowledge that the country’s vaccination strategy is working,” she said. “The number of serious cases is low, and it is primarily those without the vaccine who end up in ITU. It is important to keep this in mind so we understand why there is the insistence for everyone to get vaccinated.”

Allowing a grace period for those client-facing staff who have not yet taken the booster to do so by 1st February is also positive step, she said, although she acknowledged that employers face a headache in dealing with that staff who do not want to take the vaccine “and believes they have a right not to take it”.

The removal of that same requirement for back-of-house staff will enable employers to shift some workers around, but she warned that this will be no easy task.

“Ultimately,” she concluded, “we need to acknowledge that vaccination is the best way to get back to living a life that is as close as possible to normal.”

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