In mid-April, the Malta Employers' Association announced its new council, with Joanne Bondin taking on the role of president.
Ms Bondin takes the wheel at a delicate time when labour issues of all kinds are near the top of companies' concerns, and where the work market often makes headlines.
WhosWho.mt caught up with Ms Bondin to find out what makes her tick, what she expects in her new role, and her priorities for the coming months.
Ms Bondin joined local consultancy firm Misco in 2006 and progressed through the ranks of the Human Resources functions, becoming director in 2017.
Asked what she finds appealing about HR, she replies, “What I love about HR is how you can tap into the potential of people. We’re all humans, and we have our ups and downs and our aspirations.”
She relishes the challenge posed in building a link between the business objectives and the people and team objectives, and is fascinated by how they all relate to each other.
“You need to deal with individuals, and you need to see how their aspirations link with the organisation’s objectives and goals," she explains.
She says that Misco offered her the opportunity to learn and grow – “I basically grew up there” – and always left her a lot of room to explore.
“If I have an idea in mind and it makes business sense, it's considered seriously. It allowed room for growth and creativity, and from that I learned that giving people space to express their individuality and grow within the company also creates growth for the company.”
This reflects her advice to companies to create a learning culture throughout the organisation: “People who are constantly learning, who are constantly growing, do not feel like they are stuck, and this helps nurture an innovative and entrepreneurial culture.”
“From a human point of view, arriving at a balanced solution is always possible when people are willing to cooperate. I really believe that working with people gets you places.”
Ms Bondin’s expertise goes beyond HR, with a long list of other services she is qualified to provide.
These include, among others, consultancy services on business planning, EU funding, corporate governance, family business planning, design of employer branding strategies, employee engagement and wellness assessments, and the design and implementation of performance management programmes and reward strategies
“As I progressed in the role, and built a lot of connections and relations, I started going into other things,” she says.
This makes Ms Bondin’s most recent move look like somewhat of a logical progression, both for her and for the MEA, which gained an individual with a high level of expertise and experience, and with contacts around the business world.
“Being part of the business community, and especially related to HR, it made logical sense that I showed interest in being on the MEA council, and in fact I was a member of the council for a number of years.”
“Then,” she continues, “there were the elections and I was approached to see if I would be interested in taking up the role. It was going to be a different experience for me, and a challenging one, because you’re also representing employers abroad, and there’s a lot of lobbying and representing employers with government and other stakeholders in the market.”
She credits the “very good teams” at both Misco and the MEA for making it all possible, noting that the MEA has a very good reputation for its responsiveness to members’ questions and requests for assistance.
“As a long-standing member before I ever got involved in the running of the Association, I can say that the MEA is very supportive. If I had a query related to someone’s employment, I would call the MEA lawyer and get immediate help. They are very efficient.”
“And that’s one of the considerations I had, about being associated with an organisation with a very good reputation,” she says. “You have your own reputation to uphold!”
Joanne Bondin with other members of the Malta Employers' Association Council
She notes that the MEA’s phone didn’t stop ringing over pandemic. “That’s because our members know they’re going to get answers and support, and that’s great!”
Now that Ms Bondin is in the driver’s seat, she’s been getting up to speed with the topics MEA covers, and working on a strategy for the coming months as the economy enters a post-pandemic recovery phase.
“There’s a lot of thinking going on to build on the organisation's strong track record while placing it more at the forefront,” she says, adding that her previous experience and connections help in this regard.
She is working closely with the Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry and the Chamber of SMEs, as well as with other organisations representing the business community, to continue improving relations and find common areas of interest to collaborate on.
She admits that Malta’s size means that there is overlap between the different organisations’ memberships, but says that the MEA’s position as a union of employers gives it a unique and distinct voice, noting that the MEA is the only one that can give a directive to its members to act in a certain way.
She says that in the eight weeks since she took on the role of president, she has learned more about the dynamics of the MEA, and about the decisions and positions it needs to take.
“Sometimes you need to take very strong positions to safeguard employers, and of course employees,” she says, and lists issues like remote work, cannabis, and the right to disconnect as matter that have arrived on her desk in the short time she has been at it.
“It’s difficult, but we strive to always be fair and ethical in our approach.”
She says that her approach is to present the MEA’s position, what it is standing for and trying to achieve, while keeping the common good in mind.
“Just because we represent employers does not mean we don’t care about employees! You need to consider everything and everyone.”
She says that her personal values resonate a lot with those of the MEA.
“I like doing things the right way,” she says. “I like to sleep peacefully at night, knowing I contributed to good, not harm.”
Turning to more personal matters to close off our interview, I ask Ms Bondin about her interest in the visual and performing arts.
“As a person I like to be involved in a lot of things,” she replies, adding with a laugh, “Just in case you hadn’t noticed!”
“With regard to arts, I like collecting art, and with my husband we also collect retro antiques. We have a gramophone and a jukebox, for example.”
She describes her passion for theatre and dance productions, those at places like the Manoel Theatre as well as smaller ones like those held at St James Cavalier, or put up by the Masquerade production house.
Although the last year and a half has of course presented a challenge to those who frequent cultural events, Ms Bondin nonetheless took the opportunity to closely follow the National Philarmonic Orchestra, which maintained an active online presence throughout the pandemic.
“We have so much talent locally,” she exclaims. “A lot! We need to do our best to recognise and appreciate it.”
It is just as well, then, that her new role, which she will hold until 2023, places her in good stead to do just that.