The Malta Independent 16 December 2017, Saturday

Christmas comes early with Labour

Stephen Calleja Thursday, 12 October 2017, 10:25 Last update: about 3 months ago

A budget without new taxes is rare, if not unique.

A budget with no increases to existing taxes, not even on cigarettes, is probably unprecedented.

Usually, the first budget after an election is one that includes stiff measures.

Not this time.

Instead, we had a budget replete with measures aimed to further build on the successes achieved so far. What stood out, for example, is a strong effort to tackle the housing situation which even the Greens, normally very sceptical people, have applauded.

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In his first reaction, Nationalist Party leader Adrian Delia said that his party is willing to help the government come up with a plan for the future.

Sure, there are problems which need to be sorted. The issues in the teaching profession need to be tackled. The traffic situation is getting worse by the day and should be a priority. The environment has not been given enough attention in the past years. And nepotism does not help Labour’s image.

But, on the whole, the country is moving forward in big strides. The economy is booming. Employment is on the rise and, as Minister Scicluna said in his speech, jobs are chasing people, not the other way round. People have money in their pockets; they are spending it, and spending it well.

The PN says that there is no plan, but if the country has reached these heights without one, it’s better not to have a plan and get to where we are, rather than having one which does not work. What is sure is that, in his official reply to the budget speech on Monday, Delia must not come across as being negative. He should praise what there is to praise, criticise in a constructive manner, and avoid being labelled in the same way that his predecessor was.

There is one thing with which I did not agree at all with regard to the budget. This is the extra day of leave that was given. Minister Scicluna said this is the first step towards reinstating public holidays that fall on a weekend as extra vacation leave days. Looking at the calendar for next year, there are four holidays falling on a weekend, as so with just one extra day of leave added the employees are worse off anyway.

Still, the point is another one. I think that with 24 days of leave and 10-14 public holidays a year (depending on how they fall on the calendar), employees have enough time off to spend according to their wishes. In total, that amounts to at least seven working weeks away from the place of work – all at the employers’ expense.

The government should not only think about the workers, but also about their employers. One way of doing this is for a real effort to eliminate sick leave abuse, which is rampant, and about which there was not one single word in the budget.

If the government wants to persist with its idea of giving more holidays to workers, the least it should so is compensate for this by reducing sick leave entitlement. Or else take up the Malta Employers’ Association proposal that the first day of sick leave goes unpaid – or, and this is my suggestion, taken from vacation leave. There are too many instances in which employees take just one day of sick leave simply because they spent the previous night out entertaining themselves. 

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