The Malta Independent 22 August 2019, Thursday

TMID Editorial: Workers living in stables - Exploitation cannot be tolerated

Thursday, 18 July 2019, 10:43 Last update: about 2 months ago

The police and the Planning Authority yesterday intervened in yet another shocking case of foreign worker exploitation.

Over eighty people were found living in what the PA described as sub-standard and inhumane conditions.

Small rooms that were previously used as horse stables were turned into ‘accommodation’ facilities for up to twelve people. The occupants, the PA said, slept, cooked and washed in the same rooms, which were overcrowded and lacked proper sanitary facilities.

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On one hand, it is positive that this case of exploitation was uncovered and dealt with by the authorities. On the other, however, it is very worrying that such things keep happening in 21st century Malta.

To make matters worse, comments given by the owner of the stables to One News yesterday highlighted the indifferent way in which many of us look at foreigners, especially African migrants.

“Yes, I was renting out these rooms to the blacks (suwed),” the owner told journalists, adding that he was naturally charging them because “no one does anything for free.”

He went on to complain that the police had broken down his stable doors without first informing him, and that they had caused unnecessary damage as a form of retaliation.

Rather than appreciating the gravity of the situation, and the charges that he might face in court, the owner complained about the damage caused during the operation.

Like with a number of other sectors, the problem here is that the country is importing tens of thousands of foreign workers a year without actually knowing or caring, whether we have enough suitable accommodation, or how much they are being paid.

A few years back, the media had revealed how a seemingly normal clothing company – one that produced garments for some of the biggest brands around – was keeping workers in overcrowded conditions at Hal Far, with the workers complaining that their wages were too low and that their passports were being withheld by their employers. That case ended up in court.

Similar accusations have been levelled at other companies, and this newsroom had run a number of reports on how a toy company had been paying its home workers rates less than half the national minimum wage.

Reports about precarious work conditions keep coming in, particularly related to cleaning and security guard companies.

The authorities have often pledged to eradicate all forms of precarious work, but little success has been achieved so far.

It also seems that, in our lust to reach record economic growth levels and to keep up with the ever increasing demand for construction, we are closing an eye to the inhuman conditions that some of these workers are being made to live in.

The government is doing its utmost to promote integration, which is a positive message. But then again we have created a system where not all people in this country enjoy the same rights, particularly when it comes to the thousands of nameless people who toil on the projects we do not want to get our own hands dirty on.

More efforts must be made to ensure that employment in this country is fair for all, that those who come here to do the dirty work we refuse to do ourselves are not treated as animals, and do not end up living in places intended to house livestock.

We must also educate ourselves and eradicate this mentality that it is ok to rent out stables to ‘blacks’ because they need somewhere to stay. If such conditions are not acceptable for us, then they are also not acceptable for others.

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