The Malta Independent 14 November 2019, Thursday

Supporting the vulnerable and needy, while ensuring sustainable economic growth

Sunday, 20 October 2019, 09:45 Last update: about 24 days ago

Josef Bugeja

Once again this government has presented a fiscal budget that, while supports the most vulnerable and needy, it also ensures a sustainable economic growth, a fiscal surplus, and that the national debt will decrease to below 40% of the Gross Domestic Product without damaging our competitiveness.

The General Workers’ Union is of the opinion that this was a very positive budget that ensures social mobility, careful spending where needed and rewards those who work hard. The continued gradual implementation of its social measures can guarantee Malta’s economic competitiveness. We believe that while it helps those in need and encourage employees to work harder, it also guarantees further implementation of measures that are in line with the principles of social justice.

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Does this mean that all the social-measures and social benefits mentioned in this budget are enough to solve all the problems that we are facing in the world of work? Certainly not!

We acknowledge the initial step to ensure equality between workers’ pay and working conditions in the private sector. The proposal to pay contract workers the same basic rate as their co-workers within the same workplace is a step in the right direction.

We feel that the Government should have been bolder and enacted new legislation to ensure total parity both in pay and in working conditions. While ensuring the same basic pay, contract workers will still not receive access to scale progression, work related allowances, double pay when they work on Sunday, and all the other working condition that directly and unionised workers have!

We already took the initiative to write to the Employment Relations Board to initiate formal discussions on how we are to implement this proposal while continuing to argue in favour of total parity. We are willing to accept a gradual implementation of the proposal that is on an agreed time frame.

This can be done, like we did when all social partners agreed to the gradual increase of the minimum wage, which was spread across a three-year process.

If maintaining economic competitivity and sustainability is a concern, a gradual process of implementation is the solution. And it was also proven right with the gradual inclusion of an extra day of leave. In fact once again this was one of our proposals and the government accepted it but is implementing it on a number of years.

We’ve always said that tackling precarious work would be a continuous journey because of new forms of employment and as the world of work evolves. In this regard as a Union we are calling for a review of Malta’s labour law and wage regulation orders so that we would be in a position to halt new kinds of exploitation, or on the other hand, introduce new work conditions to reflect the current reality.

Another GWU proposal which the Government accepted and intends to introduce is a reduction from 25% to 15% on the income tax on the first 100 hours of overtime. This measure will reward those who contribute to the organisational and national growth. This will motivates more workers’ to perform overtime.

Once again, we welcome the increase in all contributory pensions and supplements. The introduction of eight years of national contributions to parents who take care of their children who suffer from severe diseases is another measure that sustains the most venerable. So is paying the minimum wage to all disabled persons who cannot work, paying the first three days of sick leave for those receiving chemotherapy through the national contribution and guaranteeing that no child whose one of his parents is in employment does not live in poverty. These and other social measures ensure that economic growth and social growth move hand in hand. And guaranteeing decent work also means that workers need to have an employment that pays well.

Because of this, we see it as a very positive measure the VAT removal on educational services that are provided by accredited institutions. This measure will go a long way to incentivise workers to seek additional learning that can achieve personal development at work. Education is always the key to have a workforce that is able to tackle future challenges.

We are viewing this budget as an opportunity to establish a long-term plan on how to develop our urban and rural zones, improve Malta’s infrastructure especially in regard of essential utility services, and also a total conversion to the use of renewable energy both for domestic and industrial consumption. It is our opinion that a total conversion for renewable energy can provide an opportunity to create new industries and new work places in what is called the green economy.

A localised ‘Green New Deal’ would provide an opportunity to generate output that is considered more valuable to our GDP.

In this context, while we believe that investors should be given all the necessary assistance to create wealth and expand their business, we also believe that workers should have all the protection so that would not end up as collateral victims. Once again the GWU reiterate its call for a mandatory union membership.

Malta’s Constitutional principles would be futile if the country's laws do not provide for an automatic guarantee to the right of union membership. Both political parties already agree with our proposal.

Therefore Maltese workers are waiting for the political class in Parliament to fully implement the GWU’s proposal.

Josef Bugeja is secretary general, General Workers Union
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