The Malta Independent 15 August 2018, Wednesday

TMID Editorial: Migration - The economic dimension

Tuesday, 17 July 2018, 10:50 Last update: about 28 days ago

We speak many times of migrants, convulsed in polemics spurred by the new Italian government, counting heads, or maybe bodies, comparing quotas, percentages, and precedents, following up stories of deaths at sea and the hardship suffered in places like Libya.

But we do not consider the economic dimension of migration as it impinges on us as a country. Certainly, the greater part of those who migrate to Malta would be doing so to better their economic position. Seen from their own perspective, they would be doing this trek and venturing on the seas, to provide a better future for their families, away from the poverty they come from.

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But we on our part have to see this issue from our own perspective. Let us for a moment depart from the usual arguments that are made and focus on something that is becoming clearer and clearer as we go along.

There is a correlation between the average wages of the incoming migrants and those of the Maltese. It has been said many times that one reason why the Maltese economy has grown these past years has been because wages have been kept low. Malta in fact along with Germany kept its wages as low as possible, or rather it kept them from increasing as much as possible. For some time we thought that was because the Maltese workers and the trade unions acted responsibly and did not demand huge wage increases.

But now a new factor has come in: wages have been kept low because of the massive increase in migrants, whether boat people or not, whether from EU countries or not. These accepted lower wages than the Maltese and so got jobs which in their countries they did not have. We can see this in restaurants and hotels, and also in retail.

And so we come to a newer variant, one which fills us with foreboding: we have already seen how the foreigners have displaced the Maltese waiters etc. We used to say that was because the Maltese no longer wanted to be waiters (which may not be true at all). But now we think we can see this practice of doing away with Maltese not just in hotels and restaurants but also in other areas, specifically construction.

The migrants who come to our shores, especially but not exclusively the boat people, mostly bring no skills but can be taught rudimentary skills which make them useful in construction. There seems to be a trend now, according to words on the streets, for constructors choosing to employ migrants who come at a pittance and who are used to do all the hard work which used to be done by Maltese workers.

We know that the Maltese workers did not remain unemployed for the statistics tell us we are having the lowest unemployment for decades.

But that is not the whole story. For while the bosses are kept happy because their unit costs are kept down, the Maltese proletariat is kept down, and all relativities are kept down too.

So, although this is not overtly stated and on the contrary this would be denied, the reality is that it pays some sectors of our economy that the indigenous Maltese workers who work at the lower ends of the spectrum remain working for peanuts. And if they do not want to work under these conditions, there are always the migrants who can do so.

Hence it may not be all true that our country is against migration. For all we say, migration has its benefits. Who certainly does not benefit is the Maltese proletariat who works on a minimum wage or less, and obviously those who have seen their social benefits and pensions kept as low as possible.

Seeing the economy grow is a wonderful thing, but not if it is being done at your expense.

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