Michael Briguglio's Blog

Saturday, May 22, 2021

Public Consultation on Malta's post-Covid recovery plans - My submission.

Re. Public Consultation on Thematic Areas underpinning Malta’s National Post Pandemic Strategy

To the Ministry for Research, Innovation and The Co-Ordination of Post Covid-19 Strategy 

1. I fully endorse the proposals made by the Malta Sociological Association on the matter. Link: http://www.maltasociologicalassociation.com/2021/05/press-release-post-covid-strategy-malta.html

2. I also wish to comment about Telework (Remote Working):

When the Covid-19 pandemic broke out last March, there was a strong governmental push to ensure that as many workers as possible work from home. Previously, such work was restricted often to parents of young children and more often than not, within the public sector. Various workers in the public sector were given the option to choose to telework for a number of hours per day or days each week. But this depended on the discretion of an organisation’s director, and not everyone was sensitive to the needs and advantages of this method. In the private sector, the situation depended on various factors and needs. A proper social-scientific analysis of such situations would provide evidence for policy making. In the post-Covid policy process, it is important  to factor in the possibility of unintended consequences due to lack of broad deliberation with various stakeholders. For example, workers’ preferences and diverse situations should be given due importance. Whilst for many workers – from office workers, to digital nomads and various professionals - teleworking is most welcome, for others this may result in precariousness and even more stress in relation to the work-life balance if not regulated well. For example, in unequal family settings, this may result in a double shift for women. Due consideration to the perils of surveillance on workers and the right to disconnect need to be factored in too. Hence, whilst the upgrading of teleworking legislation is most welcome, it is important to factor in the various social, economic, and technological ramifications and to cater for the diversity of family set-ups, employment characteristics and everyday situations of workers.

3. In the post-Covid process, Government should factor in the various levels of policy implementation, such as those related to institutional set ups and personal behaviour respectively. Each one of us has a role to play in the interpretation and implementation of the government’s measures. We are products and producers of society at the same time. Hence, a high vaccination rate coupled with appropriate social distancing can hypothetically help our society move towards ‘normality’. In the meantime, these variables intersect with other social realities, including Malta’s smallness, the partisan divide, the impacts of and on different economic sectors, and variables which may not even have been anticipated. The behaviour of each and every one of us thus needs to be contextualised, resulting in possible different outcomes. For example, an ideal case scenario would be to have lower Covid-19 and R rates, an increased sense of optimism among the public, conformity to directives issued by authorities, and a sense of normality in fields such as the economy, culture, and society. On the other hand, Covid-anxiety might still persist even if Covid-figures improve. Or conversely, Covid-figures may remain worrying, but we may get tired of restrictions with respect to our needs and wants. Not to mention the fact that different individuals and groups in society may interpret and act upon each possible situation in different ways. For example, the way that the government and opposition react to change may influence people’s trust or lack of it in the measures being taken. At the same time, however, it is interesting to note that to date, Maltese society has shown quite a high level of communitarian behaviour, for example through social distancing and vaccine take-up rates. In turn, these different possibilities can be impacted in different ways, for example through the influx of tourists.

4.  Tourism can act as a double-edged sword in this regard. On the one hand it can help fuel a rise in Covid-19 rates, and on the other it can provide a badly-needed economic injection. Let us keep in mind that assistance to businesses through national and EU funding is not unlimited. Widespread consultation with experts and stakeholders is required to ensure that we do not repeat mistakes like last year’s.

5. Whilst I understand the government’s need to plan a timeline to return to a post-covid situation, I think that it would be more realistic to interpret all this as a social process without a clear cut-off date, but with a myriad of changes and impacts which take place across time and space. It is important to take heed of lessons learned during the process, whether related to facemask-wearing and social distancing, or to opportunities and constraints of remote working and flexibility, and the intersection of medical, economic, social, political, cultural, and other factors at individual, societal, national, and transnational levels.

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