Malta enjoys high economic growth and near full employment, but the island is experiencing widening social inequality, with the top 20% earning 37% of total income and the bottom 40% earning only 22% of total income.
On May 1, Andre Callus of Moviment Graffitti said decisive state intervention was desperately needed to reverse widening inequality and improve wages and conditions for workers.
“Minimum wage increases could drive up all low wages,” said Callus, who called claims by the Labor government that the minimum wage rose in 2017 a “blatant lie”.
“The mechanism provided meager wage increases for minimum wage workers, only after two years of employment.
“It is essential to keep in mind that a significant increase in the minimum wage is not only important for minimum wage workers, but for all low-wage workers. An increase in the minimum wage will automatically raise all low wages,” Callus explained. “This is why an increase in the minimum wage was fiercely opposed by employers’ organisations.”
As Malta celebrates International Workers’ Day on May 1, another concern for the social development of the island is the precariousness suffered by non-unionized foreign workers in so-called platform jobs.
General Secretary of the General Workers’ Union, Josef Bugeja, told MaltaToday that the island’s food courier army was a new class of precarious workers.
“I refuse to use such services because I am aware that workers’ rights are not protected. The number of accidents they are involved in stems from the fact that they have to meet certain quotas in order to earn commission on deliveries,” Bugeja said.
“It is 2022 and we are still hearing stories in the media of injured workers being left by the side of the road. It’s blood money,” Bugeja said of further concerns about the illegal employment of unprotected workers suffering from health and safety deficiencies at the hands of their employers.
Bugeja argued that with unemployment at record highs, no Maltese workers were competing with foreigners for jobs. “The pressure is currently on wages, because most foreign workers are not unionized and they are paid less than those who are under collective agreements.”
Bugeja said the country depends on foreign labor and the economy would not sustain itself without them. “On Labor Day, I want to thank all the workers for being the backbone of our society,” Bugeja said.
But André Callus also said that the rules governing residence permits for third-country nationals needed to be revised, as these placed these workers in a situation of complete dependence on their employers.
“These rules have led to the exploitation of these workers, who are unable to challenge exploitative practices or demand better wages and conditions, due to the power the employer is ceding over them,” he said. said Callus.
Bugeja however believes that working conditions for Maltese and foreign workers could be greatly improved by compulsory union membership, a GWU proposal which has been endorsed by the Labor Party.
Bugeja played down criticism against the proposal, saying many workplace abuses would be eradicated if all workers were unionized.
“With this proposal, union membership would be compulsory not only for the employer but also for the employer. Through union membership, most abuses against workers would be eradicated as rules and regulations would be enforced,” Bugeja said.
He argues that even issues like the gender pay gap don’t exist where workplaces are unionized. “On the other hand, the gender pay gap averages 19% wherever workers are not unionized.”
Bugeja played down the idea that this would hamper workers’ free choice, saying workers would be free to join any union they choose.
Callus also believes that compulsory unionization could potentially improve the ability of workers to demand better wages and conditions, as long as it complied with constitutional provisions.
But he said employers could easily circumvent the law by creating “fake” labor unions, controlled by bosses, while current unions have their actions limited due to partisan loyalties.
“Currently in the construction industry, contractors have unlimited power. This industry needs serious application. Worker safety goes beyond the construction sector: authorities ignore the conditions of food couriers, who work very long hours and are paid on delivery.
“That can only change if institutions radically change their approach from one that is business-friendly to one that puts the welfare of workers as its priority.”