Sociologist from Malta

Friday, April 03, 2009

A good deal for jobs

Michael Briguglio

The Times, Friday, 3rd April 2009

Official figures show that economic growth last year was down to l.6 per cent, compared to 3.6 per cent in 2007.

Besides, NSO statistics report that there was a decrease in jobs, sales and investment in Malta's manufacturing sector for the fourth quarter of 2008. Bed-occupancy in hotels has also registered a drop last January. The signs are that Malta is being adversely affected by the global economic crisis.

The global crisis has more to do with the failure of unbridled neo-liberal capitalism than with the government of Malta. One should surely appreciate efforts made by the government and trade unions to protect existing jobs and to attract new investment to Malta. Yet, this does not absolve the government from responsibility to meet the challenges ahead in a determined way.

To begin with, more solidarity should be shown towards those workers who are themselves demonstrating camaraderie with their fellow workers in opting for four-day weeks instead of seeing their colleagues losing their jobs. These workers are sacrificing a day's pay every week and, thus, keeping unemployment levels lower than they would otherwise be.

It would be more than fair if the government helps these workers through financial compensation until the economic situation gets better. This mechanism is already being used by other European governments.

The government should embrace the concept of the Green New Deal, which is being championed by the European Greens, with whom Alternattiva Demokratika is affiliated.

In this regard, studies indicate that five million Green jobs can be generated within the European Union.

The United Nations, trade unions and employers' associations within the EU and Malta are supporting the call for the generation of Green jobs.

Such jobs can be generated in sectors such as manufacturing, tourism, services, IT, research, alternative energy, transport, agriculture, community work and waste management. Jobs can also be generated in new technologies for transport and public transport, alternative energy generation, in the greening of the construction industry and the education sectors among others. Workers at various levels, including professional, administrative and technical, stand to gain from such investment.

Apart from investing more funds in projects that are socially and ecologically sustainable, thus creating job opportunities, the government can also incentivise the businesses community to opt for such sustainable paths.

Measures such as tax breaks, venture capital initiatives and soft-loans would surely be beneficial in this regard. Local councils should also have more authority and resources for the creation of such opportunities.

A Green New Deal involves a change in the way politics is done, whereby economic, social and ecological factors are seen holistically. It involves proper consultation with all actors involved, including employers, workers, family, local communities, civil society representatives and consumers. The way the government is bulldozing upon trade unions, workers and small businesses in the utility bills issue is surely not a step in the right direction.

The Green New Deal also makes work pay through policies that encourage people to enter employment by fair working conditions. Malta's employment rate, the lowest in Europe, especially due to the very low participation rates of women and aging workers, should encourage us to do more in this regard. Sociological studies have shown how the lack of proper employment opportunities is not helping things for such groups.

Unfortunately, the government is not doing enough to stop the tide of casualised, contractual and low-paid jobs and is not itself setting an example.

For example, enforcement against employers denying basic rights to part-time workers is lacking.

Besides, not only does the government issue tenders to employers with exploitative practices but it also opposes family-friendly proposals such as those by the European Commission to improve the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breastfeeding. Indeed, the government insists on being the miser of Europe as regards maternity leave - Malta grants the lowest entitlement on this social right.

Better social standards are not necessarily in contradiction with economic development. The Green New Deal offers much food for thought on the challenges ahead.

The author, a sociologist, is spokesman for social and economic development of Alternattiva Demokratika - the Green party.

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