The Work-Based Learning and Apprenticeship Act (Chapter 576 of the Laws of Malta) came into force in March 2018, providing a framework for the development of effective work placements, apprenticeships and internships.
The act aims to strengthen work-based learning and apprenticeships by introducing new definitions and operational parameters for work placements, apprenticeships and internships. It outlines responsibilities and governance structures, while defining the rights and obligations for vocational education and training (VET) providers, sponsors and apprentices.
Despite its introduction in early 2018, few employers and students are aware of this legislation.
This article describes the new training agreement requirements that apply to apprenticeships.
Individuals who are at school leaving age can enrol in apprenticeships. An apprenticeship is a programme in which apprentices are engaged on joint programmes of school-based learning at a licensed VET provider and work-based learning with a registered sponsor, leading to a recognised vocational qualification or award as outlined in the act.
For apprenticeships to be lawful, a tripartite training agreement must first be signed by the VET provider (which administers the training programme), the sponsor (which runs the work-based training process) and the apprentice. The Work-based Learning and Apprenticeship Act states that:
Several natural persons or legal entities may cooperate within the framework of a collaborative training venture to discharge the contractual obligations of the sponsor as long as responsibility for the stages of training and for the period of training as a whole are ensured.
If the apprentice is under 18 years of age, their parents or legal guardians must sign the training agreement before the training programme begins. The agreement is binding only if registered with a VET provider in accordance with the act.
Any agreement that departs from the act to the detriment of the apprentice will be considered null and void. In this respect, the act provides that the training agreement must also establish the apprentice's eligibility to work overtime, provided that the sponsor has obtained the necessary written consent from the VET provider. In addition, the act states that:
Apprentices are entitled to avail themselves of up to four days of unpaid study leave per academic year to be used during assessment periods upon presentation of official timetables from the VET provider.
During the VET providers' Christmas, Easter and summer breaks, learners are to attend the work-based learning component of the training programme as agreed with the sponsor in the training programme plan, and subject to the minimum hours required for the work-based learning component as required by the Act.
The sponsor must not grant any leave on days that the apprentice must attend school-based learning as part of the training programme.
Each party to the agreement has its own rights and obligations.
The VET provider administers the training programme and is responsible for its development, coordination, assessment and certification, as well as the provision of the school-based learning component.
On the other hand, the sponsor runs the work-based training process in accordance with the training programme, syllabus and timetable and selects prospective apprentices.
Apprentices are regulated under the Employment and Industrial Relations Act,(1) the Young Persons (Employment) Regulations,(2) if applicable, and the Social Security Act(3) in relation but not limited to:
- probationary periods;
- cost of living increases;
- occupational health and safety;
- maternity and parental leave, as well as leave for urgent family reasons;
- public holidays falling on weekly days of rest;
- wages to be paid at regular intervals;
- payment of statutory bonuses; and
- rights to social security benefits.
The act provides for paid apprenticeships and therefore prohibits unpaid apprenticeships. Thus, apprentices can benefit from the state-funded students' maintenance grant, while also enjoying the right to an income equivalent to the national minimum wage.
The apprenticeship ends once the training period expires and the training programme is successfully completed, as established in the training agreement. However, if the apprentice fails to complete the training programme before the training period expires, they can request an extension until the next time it is possible to complete the training programme. The maximum extension is one year.
Notably, the training programme's work-based component can be terminated in accordance with the law addressing probationary periods.
An apprentice who discontinues the work-based period before the time stipulated within the training agreement will not be liable to pay any notice money. Therefore, they need not pay the sponsor any amount for the training received during the time spent at work, nor for the remainder of time specifically agreed on for the work-based period.
The sponsor need not retain the apprentice once the training programme has finished; however, if the apprentice continues to work for the sponsor, an employment relationship will be deemed to have been established and general employment law principles will apply.
A training agreement regulating apprenticeship will be null and void if it obliges apprentices to pay for their training programme or imposes penalties on the apprentice other than those regulated by the Employment and Industrial Relations Act. It will also be null and void if it excludes or limits compensation claims for damages or determines the rate of compensation for damages as a lump sum.
Through the act, Malta has introduced a system which encourages apprentices to get first-hand knowledge of how industries operate, while helping them to decide on and pursue a clear career path. It seeks to address the gap between industry and education, promote job mobility and flexibility and raise the level of apprenticeships through the accreditation of work-based learning.
Therefore, tripartite training agreements are the first crucial step for apprenticeships, as is the registration of such agreements with the VET provider in accordance with the act. Throughout such tripartite agreements, all parties must comply with the act, as any agreement departing from the act to the apprentice's detriment will be considered null and void.
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