The Malta Independent 12 May 2021, Wednesday

A friend indeed

Owen Bonnici Friday, 30 April 2021, 07:53 Last update: about 11 days ago

During the time of need when a cruel pandemic tore through our way of life and endangered jobs and livelihoods everywhere across the globe, our workers found, in the Maltese Government, a friend indeed.

In the run-up to Worker’s Day tomorrow, we are duty bound to remind the workers at large in our country that the important decisions taken by Robert Abela’s Government saved 100,000 jobs in a single year.  As the world will be reflecting on the importance of the day dedicated to all workers, we in Malta can proudly say that in these unprecedented times, jobs were treated as a priority.

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Until now, a total of €415 million in wage supplements were disbursed in favour of the companies which were hit both by the pandemic and the resulting restrictions.  This is a massive investment which happened because we had a Labour Government which year after year took care of our public finances.

Government assistance, including supplements and benefits, positively affected 100,000 employees which essentially amounts to practically half of the total workforce employed in the private sector. 

In Malta each full time worker was provided with an assistance of up to €800 per month. 

In comparison, the schemes of assistance obtaining in other European countries were nowhere near to what we are doing in Malta.  In Germany the schemes reached 15% of employees, in Spain 21%, in Italy 30% and in France 34%.  This is not all- by the end of 2020 the eligibility of the schemes shrunk to 5-10% of the workforce.

In Malta, an employee who usually, in pre-pandemic times, earned EUR 800 per month did not lose a cent.  Elsewhere in Europe, the assistance came as a percentage of the wage- in Spain for instance, the proportion of assistance vis-à-vis the wage was 50%.

It is therefore not a coincidence that Malta is one of three other EU countries where the employment figures in 2020 actually went up, rather than going down.  Throughout the EU, jobs went down by 3.1 million and the level of employment went back to 2017 times.  In Spain alone, for instance, 850,000 jobs were lost.

Of course the wage supplement was not the only benefit that was provided here in Malta.  A whole list of other new benefits were given to various sectors of society, including those working couples who both of them worked in the private sector and who could not benefit from teleworking, companies which introduced teleworking and assistance to companies for quarantine leave payments, people who lost their employment and lessees who were unemployed.

Also, €40 million worth of vouchers were distributed to assist families and bolster consumption.  Another round of vouchers will be distributed shortly with a further investment of €45 million.

Most importantly the Government took care of the health of the whole nation and a big thank you must immediately be given to our doctors, nurses and all those working in the health sector. An extraordinary investment of €822 million was pumped into the heath sector in order to cater for all new expenses resulting from the pandemic including those relating to equipment, including protective equipment for the protection of practitioners, and swabbing centres. 

The vaccination process is another success story.  The Government secured a health provision of vaccines in an efficient and proactive manner.  Also, Malta tops the list of vaccinations per capita in the whole of the European Union.  This certainly does not come about on its own but is the result of a focused leadership and hard work.

All this contrasts sharply with what used to happen during the time when Lawrence Gonzi was at the helm of the country and people like Austin Gatt and his best friend Manuel Delia were busy filling the air with arrogance and planning on ruining the public transport system.

When the Maltese economy was hit by the global crisis at the end of 2008, the Government immediately adopted a policy of austerity.  In 2008 the Government expenditure was 42.1% of the GDP and this was brought down to 39.8% by 2010.   The expenditure for children’s allowance was decreased by EUR 2 million in those two years.

Capital expenditure went down by almost 50% compared to pre-crisis times. At the same time the Nationalist Government repeatedly increased the prices of essential products.  The index of the price of utilities, for instance, increased by 20% in 2008, 16% in 2009 and 24% in 2010. 

The result?  An increase in the number of people registering for work from less than 6,000 in 2008 to practically 8,000 in 2010.  The people which became dependent on social assistance increased by 900.  Bank deposits decreased by €165 million in the first six months of the crisis.

The economic effects of the pandemic are 10 times larger than the 2008 crisis.  And yet, a Labour Government increased public expenditure from 37% of the GDP to slightly less than 47%.  This means that while a Nationalist Government decreased public expenditure by 2.5 percentage points, a Labour Government increased it by 10 percentage points.

While under a Nationalist Government those dependent on social assistance increased by 900, during the present pandemic there was a decrease of 500.  This includes more than 100 single parent which managed to find employment and got rid of social dependency.

3,500 less families lost their job during the present pandemic than the 2008 crisis, even though the current pandemic hit us 10 times harder from an economic point of view than the crisis which took place thirteen years ago.

I can go on and on.  On Worker’s Day tomorrow, keep in mind that Prime Minister Robert Abela and his Government were there for families and business in one of our country’s most pressing hour of need in modern history.

A friend in need is a friend indeed.

Happy Worker’s Day to all.

 

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