The Malta Independent 19 March 2019, Tuesday

TMID Editorial: Foreign workers - Equal treatment for all workers

Saturday, 23 February 2019, 09:20 Last update: about 23 days ago

There is concerning news coming from the employment front, at least where foreign construction workers are concerned.

The current construction frenzy has been creating a huge demand for foreign workers – there are simply not enough Maltese builders to go around all the mega developments and road works taking place all around the country. There is not even enough equipment to go around, with reports coming in this week that the two and a half thousand Turkish workers who have come to work on construction projects in Malta have brought with them their own trucks and cranes.

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That the country does not have enough workers and trucks to service all ongoing projects is already a worrying sign – it means that things are just moving too fast, at a pace with which we cannot keep up.

But also of concern is the welfare of these thousands of workers that are travelling to Malta to find work and are often being exploited by the workforce-hungry market.

There have been reports that these Turkish workers have been living in pre-fabricated homes, not dissimilar to containers. Then, later this week it was reported that the workers had been moved to a quarry in Mqabba, part of which was being turned into a makeshift village specifically built to house them.

The Planning Authority reacted to that report by saying that there was no evidence that anyone had been living in the quarry, adding that an illegally erected tent would be taken down. The owners told the authority that the site would be used as office premises. But the enforcement notice issued for the site belies the statement as it says that the illegality consists of a change of use “from approved offices to residential unit,” among other things.

While not exactly similar, the latest case of the Turkish workers is reminiscent of the infamous Leisure Clothing saga, where hundreds of Asian workers were imported to Malta and made to live in inhuman conditions and work inhuman hours for inhuman wages.

It is also, in a way, reminiscent of the migrants that had been found living in a disused cow farm, because someone had discovered a novel way of making a quick buck.

The government has remained largely silent on these issues and, instead of condemning malpractices, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said a few days ago that bringing in these thousands of foreign workers was crucial for the economy – that without them there would be no pensions and social benefits.

The democratically elected government can push ahead with its construction frenzy and the importation of thousands of workers – if the people disapprove they can send a signal in a general election. But the government simply cannot accept a situation where foreign workers are exploited and treated in a way that would not be suitable for Maltese workers.

The Malta Developers Association last week said the same thing, telling the government that the regulatory authorities should ensure that foreign workers brought to Malta jobs carried out by foreign contractors are not subjected to unacceptable conditions.

This, the MDA pointed out, would also give these companies an unfair advantage over local companies that abide by the rules and pay fair wages. All workers, irrespective of nationality, and employed in the construction industry in Malta should have the same rights and conditions, the MDA said.

The association is absolutely right.

The powers that be cannot simply close an eye to illegalities and exploitation for the sake of progress and development.

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