Sociologist from Malta

Wednesday, June 06, 2018

Workers for partisan needs - Michael Briguglio

Image result for community workers malta scheme

Times of Malta 4 June 2018

A total 839 persons are now employed by the Community Work Scheme administered by the General Workers’ Union and financed through public funds. This scheme was set up in 2016 to provide employment for 600 workers who were registering for work and who would consequently be struck off the unemployment list once in the scheme.
Despite being paid by the government, they would also be registered as private sector workers as they would be employed by a private foundation belonging to the GWU. Whether these are exercises in creative statistics is subject to interpretation.
The total expenditure for the scheme is of €8.5 million over five years. The union’s foundation is paid €980 a month per worker out of which the standard minimum page is paid to each. The difference enters the foundation’s books. In turn, each worker is assigned with government departments or local councils.
When the scheme was launched, the Ministry of Education and Employment said it provides “experience and skill-building rather than fixed employment, while individuals are helped in the process of finding work in the private sector”.
Let us say that the workers in question are benefitting as stated above, and that the scheme was along the lines of some other commendable social welfare schemes in place. If this were the case, such workers would no longer be welfare dependent. But it seems that they are now dependent on this ‘temporary’ scheme, unless there is a turnover of workers who are consequently being employed in the private sector.  Do any official figures exist in this regard?
Here one can reply that these workers are required by government departments and local councils to carry out their duties in an ever-growing list of demands for better public services. But is this really what is happening? Is their work being audited? Who is benefitting from their output? And are all workers being treated in an equitable manner?
From what I see and hear, very often local councils do not have much authority over the deployment of such workers, and this may have to do with partisan reasons related to the political masters behind the scheme. It seems to be the case that the jobs and conditions given to workers are related to constituency requirements of ministers, on the power of incumbency and on electoral calculations.
In this regard, it would be helpful if the government and the GWU release data about this scheme. Are the needs of all local councils being taken into account, or are red councils benefitting from a surplus of workers compared to blue ones? Could it be the case that the government wants to reward Labour-leaning councils with a bounty of workers to carry out jobs in time for the upcoming local and European elections?
Indeed is the scheme creating a new form of dependency, this time dictated by political patronage?
To me the scheme is yet another example of the micro-management techniques employed by the party in government to ensure that people are incorporated in government schemes in return for political loyalty. The sale of passports provides useful funds in this regard, as recurrent expenditure keeps increasing.  
The fact that a workers’ union which has very close ties to the party in government is profiting from the employment of unemployed workers makes the scheme even more questionable. Rather than a scheme to empower workers, the scheme looks more like a win-win exercise for Labour and the GWU courtesy of taxpayers’ money.
I would expect social welfare schemes to value human dignity and freedom, to equip people in relation to today’s opportunities and risks and to decentralise power as much as possible. Sadly, the community workers scheme points towards the other direction.

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