Wanted: a transport policy which makes sense

Everywhere is within reach in the Maltese islands: distances are relatively small. It is, in addition, an established fact, documented in the Transport Masterplan, that 50 per cent of private car trips on our roads take less than fifteen minutes. Do we need to be dependent on private cars for such short distances?

Over the years public transport was neglected. In the absence of suitable public transport, and as a reaction thereto, a pattern of car dependency has inevitably developed. The resulting congested roads are a symptom of this fact rather than being, as suggested in Parliament earlier this week by a government backbencher, the direct consequence of an increase in the country’s standard of living.

There have been improvements in public transport in the last years: these are however insufficient. Having free public transport is a good but pre-mature initiative as public transport has yet to be efficient and reliable. The decision announced last week by Transport Minister to invest in cycle lanes, is welcome, even if it comes a little late in the day.

The heavy investment in road infrastructure over the years has been misdirected as it has focused on the effects instead of on the causes of traffic congestion. The financial resources utilised in the Marsa Road network, the Central Link and elsewhere, will, at the end of the day, prove to be monies down the drain as traffic congestion will build up once more. This is already evident even in these early days. Others have been there before us as is revealed by countless studies carried out all over the world on the link between traffic congestion and improvement of the road infrastructure.

It is only through the provision of alternative means of sustainable mobility that the problematic behavioural pattern we have developed over the years can be addressed. Moving away from car dependency will however be a very slow process if policy makers keep continuously sending conflicting signals.

Making it easier for the car user through more or better roads is no help in solving the problem. It will make matters worse. Likewise, the subsidisation of petrol and diesel is sending a clear message to all that car dependency is not even considered to be a problem.

Three specific factors are currently in play: traffic congestion, fuel cost and the transition to transport electrification. If properly managed, together they can help us move towards a state of sustainable mobility. The transition period is however necessarily painful unless it is properly managed.

Postponement in tackling traffic congestion properly will only make matters worse.

Improvement of road infrastructure has postponed the issue of tackling traffic congestion into the future. Fuel subsidies have added to the problem as they blatantly ignore it. Electrification, unless coupled with a reduction of cars on the road will add acute electricity dependency on foreign sources to our current problems. Energy sovereignty has been problematic for quite some time: it will get worse.

The second electricity interconnector with the Sicilian mainland will worsen our car dependency as a result of linking it with a dependency on electricity generated outside our shores. We know quite well what that signifies whenever the interconnector is out of service, whatever the cause!

We need to go beyond the rhetoric and act before it is too late. It is also possible to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected. This would mean that instead of having across-the-board subsidises, these would be focused on those who really need them. All those who have mobility problems should receive focused assistance to help them overcome the difficulties which could result from a modal shift in transport. We cannot however go on with subsidies for all: it is not sustainable, neither economically, nor environmentally or socially

Land use planning can also be of considerable help if it is focused on the actual needs of the whole community instead of being at the service of the developers. We need to ensure that each community is self-sufficient in respect of its basic needs. This will, on its own, decrease traffic generated by the search for such needs.

The climate change debate is a unique opportunity to rethink the way we plan our cities as one way in which to combat the climate crisis. The idea crystallised as ‘the 15-minute city’ by Carlos Moreno, an architect advising the Paris mayor, entails turning current urban planning on its head to ensure that all our basic needs are available within easy reach, not more than 15 minutes away.

Carlos Moreno speaks of a social circularity for living in our urban spaces based on six essential functions: to live in good housing, to work close by, to reach supplies and services easily, to access education, healthcare and cultural entitlement locally by low-carbon means. Can we reassess the nature and quality of our urban lifestyles within these parameters?

All we do is essentially linked. At the end of the day traffic congestion and the related car dependency are a product of our mode of behaviour.  Thinking outside the box, we can tackle it successfully, as a result unchaining ourselves from our car dependency, consequently adjusting to a better sustainable lifestyle.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday 20 November 2022

Kultura ta’ dipendenza

Il-baġit għall-2023 li l-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana ippreżenta lill-Parlament nhar it-Tnejn għandu jkun deskritt bħala wieħed li jsaħħaħ kultura ta’ dipendenza.  Il-Gvern jagħmel użu mit-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet biex jilħaq dan l-iskop! Id-dipendenza fuq il-Gvern, taħt il-Labour hi oġġettiv  inkoraġġit. Is-sitwazzjoni minn baġit għall-ieħor tmur mill-ħażin għall-agħar.

Dan hu forsi l-iktar ċar mill-mod kif il-Gvern imexxi l-quddiem il-politika tiegħu dwar il-pagi. Żviluppat differenza kbira bejn id-daqs tal-paga minima u kemm verament teħtieġ biex tgħix. Il-Gvern qed jipprova jindirizza din id-differenza billi jqassam iċ-ċekkijiet. Issa ħoloq COLA ġdida biex jgħin lill-vulnerabbli u dan flimkien ma numru ta’ sussidji li uħud minnhom mhux neċessarji inkella huma ta’ ħsara.

 Il-ħolqien ta’ dan il-benefiċċju ġdid għall-persuni vulnerabbli (80,000 skond il-Ministru) li ma jistgħux ilaħħqu mal-ħajja, hu pass pożittiv. Il-vulnerabbli jeħtieġu l-għajnuna, imma jeħtieġu ferm iktar minn ċekk ta’ madwar €300 li ser jitqassam fi żmien il-Milied. Kien ikun ferm iktar għaqli kieku l-Gvern iffoka fuq il-problema reali u indirizza din il-probema bis-serjetà. Issa ilu żmien ikaxkar saqajh.

Il-problema reali hi li l-paga minima hi baxxa ħafna: hi ferm il-bogħod minn paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Gvern wara l-ieħor għamel ħiltu biex din il-problema jevitha. Tajjeb li niftakru li l-benefiċċji soċjali, fil-parti l-kbira tagħhom, huma marbuta mal-paga minima u huma rifless tagħha. Paga minima diċenti awtomatikament teffettwa l-benefiċċji soċjali li riżultat ta’ hekk jitjiebu sostanzjalment, bi dritt.

Tul dawn l-aħħar għaxar snin tlett rapporti tal-Caritas analizzaw din il-materja fil-fond. L-aħħar rapport, li nħareġ fl-2021, kien ikkonkluda li hemm diskrepanza ta’ 40 fil-mija bejn il-paga minima u dak meħtieġ biex wieħed jgħix b’mod diċenti. Dan jammonta għal diskrepanza ta’ madwar €4,000 fis-sena. Din hi l-problema rejali!

Sakemm nibqgħu bil-paga minima baxxa daqshekk, it-tqassim fuq stil tar-rigali tal-Milied (Father Christmas) ser jibqgħu jsiru biex jitnaqqas il-piz minn fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli. Xi drabi ir-rigali ta’ Father Christmas ma jkunux limitati għall-vulnerabbli imma qed jinfirxu ma kulħadd. Hekk ġara biċ-ċekkijiet ta’ qabel l-elezzjoni, u l-hekk imsejħa rifużjoni tat-taxxa!

Flok din id-dipendenza fuq dan it-tqassim, ikun iktar xieraq li l-paga minima tiżdied u issir paga li tista’ tgħix biha.  Dan jista’ jsir billi l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li fuqu tkun ikkalkulata l-paga minima jkun aġġornat regolarment. Dan jelimina l-ħtieġa tat-tqassim ta’ cekkijiet ta’ kull xorta fil-parti l-kbira tal-każi għax il-paga raġjonevoli tkun ir-regola: ma jkunx hemm ħtieġa tal-benvolenza politika tal-Gvern, la fi żmien il-baġit u l-anqas, fi żmien ta’ elezzjoni ġenerali kif, b’mod abbużiv diġa sar.

B’żieda ma’ dan it-tqassim taċ-ċekkijiet bi pjaċir, flok pagi ġusti bi dritt, tajbin biex wieħed jgħix bihom, il-Gvern qiegħed ukoll japplika numru ta’ sussidji li huma mfasslin b’mod żbaljat.

Is-sussidji tal-petrol u d-dijżil huma żejda. Iż-żieda internazzjonali fil-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil, li huma madwar id-doppju ta’ dak li qed inħallsu Malta, hi opportunità unika li f’idejn kapaċi tista’ tikkoreġi l-iżbalji li għamel il-Gvern fil-konfront tal-problema tagħna tad-dipendenza fuq il-karozza privata.

Flok is-sussidji fuq il-prezz tal-petrol u d-dijżil ikun aħjar kieku ninvestu fl-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku. Din hi opportunità unika li, f’idejn min jifhem tista’, fit-tul, twassal għal tibdil fl-imġieba tan-nies favur użu iktar tat-trasport pubbliku u użu inqas tal-karozzi privati.  L-introduzzjoni ta’ transport pubbliku b’xejn għal kulħadd mill-bidu ta’ dan ix-xahar kien pass primatur: l-effiċjenza u l-puntwalità tat-trasport pubbliku kellu jkun indirizzat ferm qabel ma ttieħed dan il-pass importanti.

Li tkun indirizzat id-dipendenza fuq il-karozzi privati hu oġġettiv politiku li l-Gvern stess ippropona fil-Pjan Nazzjonali dwar it-Trasport. Il-Gvern qiegħed jinjora l-pjan tiegħu stess.

Min-naħa l-oħra hu xieraq li l-konsum bażiku tal-ilma u l-elettriku fir-residenzi tagħna jibqa’ jkun issussidjat. Imma hu żball li is-sussidju japplika ukoll għall-konsum kollu ta’ kulħadd. Ikun ferm aħjar jekk setturi differenti tal-ekonomija jkollhom aċċess għal għajnuna mfassla għall-ħtiġijiet tagħhom sakemm iddum il-kriżi kurrenti.   Dan jista’ jagħti protezzjoni ferm ikbar kemm lill-impiegi kif ukoll lill-ekonomija. Fuq kollox b’dan il-mod jista’ jkun evitat li jkun issussidjat il-ħela u l-abbuż fl-użu tal-ilma u l-elettriku.

Ma hemmx ħtieġa li nsaħħu kultura ta’ dipendenza fil-forma ta’ tqassim ta’ ċekkijiet inkella b’sussidji mhux meħtieġa.  Huwa tajjeb li l-vulnerabbli jkunu mgħejjuna. Imma li tinbena u tissaħħaħ kultura ta’ dependenza bħala riżultat ta’ politika skaduta dwar il-pagi hi xi ħaġa ferm differenti. Dan jagħmel ħsara lit-tessut soċjali tal-pajjiż u għandu jinġieb fit-tmiem l-iktar kmieni possibli.

ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 30 t’Ottubru 2022

A Culture of Dependency

The budget for 2023 presented to Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana last Monday may be described as one which reinforces a culture of dependency. Government handouts are used, left, right and centre to achieve this objective. Under Labour the culture of dependency is actively encouraged: it gets worse with every budget.

This is most clear in the manner in which government deals with incomes policy. A chasm has developed between the actual minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. Government tries to bridge this through various handouts including the newly created special COLA for the vulnerable as well as through subsidies, some of which are unnecessary or damaging.

The creation of a new ad hoc benefit payable to vulnerable persons (estimated by the Minister at 80,000 persons) who cannot cope with the current rate of inflation is a positive step. They definitely need help, but they need much more than an approximately €300 handout at Christmas time.  It would have been much better if government focused on the real problem and addressed it head-on. It has been procrastinating for ages.

The real problem is that the minimum wage is ridiculously low: it is far from being a living wage. Governments have repeated sought to avoid addressing this issue. It is pertinent to point out that social benefits are mostly pegged to the minimum wage. A minimum wage at a reasonable level would automatically adjust all social benefits to an equally reasonable level too.

Three Caritas reports have analysed the issue in depth in the last ten years. The last report issued in 2021 had found a 40 per cent discrepancy between the minimum wage and what is required as a living wage. This translates into approximately a €4,000 shortfall per annum. This is the real problem!

For so long as the minimum wage remains at such a low level, government handouts in Father Christmas style will remain the norm in order to reduce the burdens on the vulnerable. At times, this Father Christmas benevolence is not limited to the vulnerable but spread to the benefit of one and all. The pre-electoral handouts and the so-called tax refunds are just two examples.

Instead of being dependent on handouts, it would be appropriate if the minimum wage is a living wage. This can only be achieved through a regular updating of the basket of goods and services on the basis of which the quantum of the minimum wage is determined. This would eliminate the need for most handouts at any time of the year as all would get their dues as of right, on a regular basis, and not be dependent on the political benevolence of government, be it at budget time or else, abusively, on the eve of general elections as has already happened.

In addition to a policy of preferring handouts to a clear statutory determination of a fair living wage Government has also embarked on a policy of increased subsidies, designed in an ill-advised manner.

The subsidies applied to petrol and diesel are uncalled for. The current international spike in fuel prices – approximately double what we pay locally– is a unique opportunity which, if properly managed could make up for government’s lack of action to address the car dependency problem on the Maltese islands.

Instead of subsidising the price of petrol and diesel it would be much better to invest in the efficiency and reliability of public transport. This is a unique opportunity which if properly managed could be the beginning of a long-term behavioural change: away from the private car and towards public transport. Having free public transport for all as of this month was a pre-mature step: the efficiency and reliability of public transport should have been adequately addressed before embarking on such an important step.

Addressing car dependency head-on is a policy objective proposed by government’s own National Transport Master Plan but repeatedly ignored by government itself.

On the other hand, it is appropriate to subsidise basic water and electricity domestic consumption. One should however think beyond an across-the-board subsidy.  Having focused assistance to different sectors of the economy tailor-made to their specific needs for the duration of the current crises would yield far better results in protecting employment and the economy in the long-term. It would definitely avoid subsidisation of waste and misuse of water and electricity.  

We do not need to create or reinforce a culture of dependency in the form of handouts and unnecessary subsidies. Helping the vulnerable is laudable. Reinforcing a culture of dependency as a result of an outdated incomes policy is something quite different: it damages the social fabric and should be reversed the soonest!

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 30 October 2022

Neħtieġu paga minima suriet in-nies

Hemm min iqis li huwa tajjeb li nħoloq mod ġdid ta’ għajnuna lill-vulnerabbli fil-konfront tal-piz fuqhom tal-inflazzjoni. Imma jkun ferm aħjar kieku nindirizzaw il-problema vera bis-serjetà. Il-Gvernijiet wieħed wara l-ieħor ilhom jonqsu milli jagħmlu dan.

Il-paga minima hi baxxa. Mhiex tajba biex tgħix biha. Teħtieġ li tgħola b’madwar €4,000 fis-sena kif ġie muri repetutament fir-rapporti tal-Caritas, sena wara l-oħra.

Sakemm il-pagi jibqgħu daqshekk baxxi jibqa’ l-ħtieġa tal-għotjiet mill-Gvern ta’ kull sena lil dak u lill-ieħor. Ir-ras iebsa tal-Gvern li ma jirrevedix il-baskett li fuqu hija ikkalkulata il-paga minima hija politika skaduta li qed iżżomm dipendenza tal-pajjiz fuq pagi baxxi u handouts.

Hu dritt li l-pagi jkunu ta’ livell diċenti. Dritt li hu mkasbar mill-Gvernijiet, wieħed wara l-ieħor. Pagi diċenti jnaqqsu l-ħtieġa ta’ politika ta’ Father Christmas. Ma nibqgħux nistennewh jiġi jqassam ir-rigali fil-budget!

Il-Gvern jista’ jagħmel użu aħjar tar-riżorsi tal-pajjiż. Is-sussidji kif qed japplikom il-Gvern jistgħu jkunu ferm aħjar.

Is-sussidji tal-fuel lill-kulħadd hu ħela ta’ riżorsi. Nistgħu ngħaddu mingħajr sussidji tal-petrol u tad-dijżil. Dan is-sussidju jista’ faċilment jitnaqqas u dan iwassal għal benefiċċju kbir: inqas karozzi fit-toroq u użu ikbar tat-trasport pubbliku! Li t-trasport pubbliku issa hu b’xejn mhux biżżejjed. Jeħtieg ukoll li jkun effiċjenti, li mhux.

Bla dubju, l-konsum bażiku tal-elettriku għad-djar, għandu jibqa’ jkun issussidjat imma l-bqija tas-sussidji għall-elettriku u l-fuels għandhom ikunu studjati aħjar.  Hemm modi aħjar kif il-Gvern jista’ jnaqqas il-piż minn fuq spallejn in-nies. U fl-aħħar ikollu iktar riżorsi għall-ħtiġijiet tal-pajjiz.

Ftit ħsibijiet dwar il-baġit li jmiss

F’dawn il-ġranet, fil-Ministeru tal-Finanzi jkun qed isir ix-xogħol preparattiv dwar il-baġit li normalment ikunu imħabbar matul ix-xahar ta’ Ottubru.

Il-Ministru tal-Finanzi, mid-dehra diġa ddeċieda li jagħti l-aħħar irtokki biex ikompli jiffinanzja l-klijenteliżmu fl-Air Malta.  Dan hu proġett fit-tul li l-ħidma dwaru ilha għaddejja fuqu mill-predeċessuri tiegħu. Proġett li jinvolvi iktar miljuni ta’ euro ġejjin mit-taxxi tagħna li ser ikunu moħlija biex jonoraw wegħdiet politiċi li saru matul il-kampanja elettorali tal-elezzjoni ġenerali li għada kif għaddiet. Din hi irregolarità oħra bħat-tqassim tac-ċekkijiet bieb bieb waqt il-kampanja elettorali. Monument “xieraq” għall-klijenteliżmu politiku.

L-għoli tal-ħajja spara l-fuq, bla kontroll. Probabbilment li l-COLA, ż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għall-pagi,salarji u pensjonijiet, li titħabbar bħala parti mill-baġit li jmiss, tkun madwar €10 fil-ġimgħa. Il-Ministru Clyde Caruana diġa qal li din kienet tkun sostanzjalment għola minn hekk kieku l-Gvern ma issussidjax il-petrol/dijsil u l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma.

Hemm ħtieġa li niddiskutu ftit iktar dawn is-sussidji biex ikunu aħjar, iktar effettivi u li jilħqu lil min verament jeħtieġhom. Fiċ-ċirkustanzi attwali hi politika tajba li l-użu bażiku jkun issussidjat, imma mhux għaqli li fuq tul ta’ żmien dan jibqa’ sussidju sħiħ għall-konsum kollu. Għax is-sussidji mhux qed imorru għand il-vulnerabbli biss: min mhux vulnerabbli għandu bżonn inqas tas-sussidji tal-lum.  Is-sussidji jeħtieġ li jkunu ffukati jekk irridu li l-pajjiż ikun ta’ għajnuna utli għall-vulnerabbli. Għax ir-riżorsi tal-pajjiż ma jippermettux li nibqgħu sejrin kif aħna fit-tul.

Xi ġranet ilu, s-sussidju fuq il-fuel li jieħdu l-inġenji tal-baħar tneħħa. Dan hu sewwa u seta ġie evitat mill-bidu. Imma dan mhux biżżejjed.  It-tnaqqis gradwali tas-sussidji fuq il-petrol u d-dijżil mhux biss inaqqas il-karozzi mit-toroq u jtejjeb il-kwalità tal-arja, imma fuq kollox jagħmilha possibli li iktar finanzi jkunu allokati għal oqsma oħra li tant jeħtieġu l-attenzjoni.

Il-Kamra tal-Kummerċ għamlet tajjeb li tkellmet dwar ftit iktar ħsieb fuq kif ikunu issussidjati l-kontijiet tal-elettriku u l-ilma. Anke f’dan il-qasam hu l-użu bażiku li għandu jkun issussidjat. Sussidji iktar minn hekk ifisser li anke l-użu esaġerat tal-elettriku u l-ilma qed ikun issussidjat. Dan hu użu ħażin ta’ fondi pubbliċi lijista’ jkun indirizzat bla diffikultà.

Naqbel perfettament ma’ Josef Bugeja tal-GWU li iż-żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja għandha titħallas kollha lil min jaħdem (u lill-pensjonanti). Il-COLA mhiex, wara kollox, żieda fil-paga imma tipprova tagħmel tajjeb għall-impatt tal-inflazzjoni fuq il-paga, salarju jew pensjoni.

Imma tibqa’ l-ħtieġa ta’ bidla mill-qiegħ dwar il-politika li tikkonċerna l-pagi (incomes policy) biex din tkun dejjem iktar relevanti għaż-żmien li qed ngħixu fih.

Ilna ħafna nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jservu biex fuqhom tinħadem il-paga minima u l-COLA jkun revedut biex ikun assigurat li dan jirrifletti l-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. L-istudji li ippubblikat il-Caritas tul dawn l-aħħar snin jiffukaw eżattament fuq hekk. Minn dawn l-istudji joħroġ ċar li reviżjoni tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi jwassal għal żieda inevitabbli ta’ 40 fil-mija fil-paga minima kurrenti. Li dan ikun indirizzat bla iktar dewmien hu essenzjali. Ifisser, skond dawn l-istudji tal-Caritas, li paga minima diċenti għandha tkun ta’ madwar l- €14,000 fis-sena.

L-inflazzjoni  sostanzjali ta’ din is-sena jfisser li l-vulnerabbli fostna għaddejjin minn żmien diffiċli. F’dawn iċ-ċirkustanzi ikun mill-iktar raġjonevoli li l-COLA titħallas darbtejn fis-sena: fl-1 ta’ Lulju u l-1 ta’ Jannar. Dan ma jżidx l-ammont li jitħallas imma billi dan jinqasam fi tnejn, u parti titħallas sitt xhur qabel, inaqqas ħafna l-piz fuq spallejn il-vulnerabbli.

Għadna qed nistennew lill-Onorevoli Ministru tal-Finanzi biex iwettaq dak li wiegħed is-sena l-oħra bl-introduzzjoni ta’ mekkaniżmu speċjali li jipproteġi lill-vulnerabbli mill-impatti tal-għoli tal-ħajja. Għadna nistennew, imma l-Onorevoli Ministru jidher li hu iktar ippreokkupat biex jonora l-wegħdiet konnessi mal-klijenteliżmu politiku fl-Air Malta.

ippubblikat fuq : Illum: 21 t’Awwissu 2022

Some budgetary considerations

In the Finance Ministry this is the time when they gear up to prepare next year’s budget which is normally presented sometime in October.

The Hon Minister for Finance has apparently already decided to proceed with the finishing touches to further finance clientelism in Air Malta. This is a long-term project what they call “works in progress”. It involves more millions of euro in taxpayer’s money down the drain to honour political pledges made during the March 2022 general election. This is another corrupt practice together with the distribution of cheques to every household during the general election campaign. A “fitting” monument to political clientelism.

The cost-of-living is out of control. Most probably that the COLA, the cost-of-living adjustment to wages, salaries and pensions, announced during the budget speech will be around €10 per week. Minister Clyde Caruana states that it could be substantially more if government did not subsidise fuel and electricity bills.

The blanket subsidises of fuel and electricity bills need to be revisited in order that they are more effective in supporting the vulnerable. In the present circumstances it is good policy to subsidise basic use but it does not make sense for a prolonged blanket policy of subsidies. The current subsidies are not going into the pockets of the vulnerable alone. Those who are not amongst the vulnerable can do without most of the current subsidies. Subsidises need to be focused such that they are of help to the most vulnerable. The country does not have the resources to go on in this way for too long a time.

Some days ago, the fuel subsidisation policy was amended in order that the fuelling of pleasure seacraft was at last excluded from further benefitting from the use of subsidised fuel. This is however not enough. The gradual reduction of subsidies of petrol and diesel would not only ease traffic from our roads and improve the quality of our air: they would also make substantial finance available for other areas.

The Chamber of Commerce has also rightfully pointed out that subsidising water and electricity bills across the board needs to be revisited. Even in this area it is basic use which should be subsidised. Subsidising across the board signifies that excessive use is subsidised too. This is a misuse of public funds which we can easily do without.

Josef Bugeja (GWU) is spot on in insisting that the cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) should be paid out in full to all employees (and pensioners). It has to be underlined that COLA is not an increase in wages and salaries. It merely makes good for the impact of inflation on wages, salaries and pensions during the past year.

There is however need for a long overdue overhaul of the incomes policy to make it more relevant to this day and age.

It is about time that the basket of goods and services used to compute the minimum wage and the COLA is revised in order to ensure that it reflects todays needs. The Caritas studies throughout the years have made this basic contribution to the debate: revising the basket of goods and services would identify a 40 per cent shortfall in the current minimum wage. The sooner this is addressed the better. On the basis of the Caritas studies, currently a decent minimum wage should be around €14,000 per annum.

The substantial inflation throughout this year signifies that the vulnerable amongst us are passing though a very difficult patch. In such circumstances it would be reasonable to consider having COLA paid twice a year: 1st July and 1st January. This would not increase the amount due but by splitting it in two, and bringing forward part of its payment by six months, would reduce the burden shouldered by the most vulnerable amongst us.

We are still waiting for the Hon Minister of Finance to honour his commitment made this time last year to address the cost-of-living impacts on the vulnerable through some special mechanism. We are still waiting, unfortunately, as the Hon Minister is more preoccupied in servicing clientelism at Air Malta.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 21 August 2022

Xogħol fuq pjattaforma diġitali: skjavitù modern?

Ilna ftit li bdejna nindunaw, bil-mod, li l-kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol ta’ dawk assoċjati mal-pjattaforma diġitali lokali setgħu ma kienux adegwati.  Fi Frar li għadda, wieħed minnhom, Nepaliż ta’ 28 sena, kien involut f’inċident tat-traffiku fatali fil-Marsa waqt li kien għaddej fuq xogħolu, jqassam l-ikel.

Din mhiex xi ħaġa li tikkonċerna lilna biss, f’Malta.  Hi sitwazzjoni li hi ukoll taħt l-osservazzjoni tal-Unjoni Ewropeja li qed tikkunsidra l-introdużżjoni ta’ Direttiva, applikabbli fl-Unjoni kollha, “dwar it-titjib fil-kundizzjonijiet tax-xogħol fuq il-pjattaformi diġitali”.  

L-istudju dwar l-impatt ta’ din il-miżura, li ġie mfassal bħala dokument biex ikun ta’ għajnuna fid-deliberazzjonijiet meħtieġa, jemfasizza li uħud minn dawk li jaħdmu permezz tal-pjattaformi diġitali qed jiffaċċjaw kundizzjonijiet ħżiena ta’ xogħol u aċċess mhux adegwat għal ħarsien soċjali.  Uħud minnhom, jgħid l-istudju, huma b’mod żbaljat deskritti jew klassifikati bħala persuni li jaħdmu għal rashom. 

Bħala riżultat ta’ din id-deskrizzjoni ħażina dawn ġeneralment jitilfu ħafna mid-drittijiet jew protezzjoni li huma intitolati għaliha.   Dawn jikkonċernaw il-ħarsien dwar kemm jaħdmu siegħat, il-paga minima (inkluż il-bonus statutorju ta’ Ġunju u Diċembru), leave annwali bi ħlas, leave għall-mard, leave tal-ġenituri u ħarsien tas-saħħa u sigurtà fuq il-post tax-xogħol.

L-azzjoni industrijali tal-kurriera tal-ikel tal-Bolt il-ġimgħa l-oħra iffukat l-attenzjoni fuq il-qagħda ta’ dawk li jaħdmu permezz tal-pjattaforma diġitali. “Kważi ħadd ma jaf minn xiex ngħaddu biex inwasslu l-ikel malajr” kien ikkwotat jgħid wieħed mill-kurriera.

Hu fatt mhux daqstant magħruf li l-operaturi tal-pjattaforma diġitali konnessa mat-tqassim tal-ikel, minbarra li jiġbru l-ħlas dovut għat-tqassim jieħdu ukoll kummissjoni sostanzjali mingħand l-operaturi tal-istabilimenti tal-ikel li jservu. Xi kultant, jiena infurmat, li dawk il-kummissjonijiet jammontaw għal madwar it-30 fil-mija tal-valur tal-ikel li jkun qed jitqassam.  Ġibduli l-attenzjoni tiegħi li din il-kummissjoni kulltant tidher riflessa f’diskrepanza bejn il-prezzijiet li jidhru online u dawk li tista’ tara b’għajnejk fl-istabilimenti tal-ikel infushom!

Għandu jkun ċar li dawn il-flejjes mill-kummissjonijiet ma jispiċċawx għand il-kurriera li jkunu qed jiġru bil-muturi mat-toroq tagħna. Jispiċċaw fil-kont tal-bank tal-operaturi tal-pjattaforma diġitali!

Uħud mill-kurriera jitħallsu bir-rata miżera ta’ €2 għal kull vjaġġ bl-ikel, kultant inqas. L-iffurtunati fosthom kultant jitħallsu  €2.50 (jew ftit iktar) għal vjaġġ bl-ikel! Dan ifisser li jkun jeħtieġilhom li jaħdmu għal siegħat twal biex jistgħu kemm kemm jgħixu.  L-affarijiet huma bil-bosta agħar għal dawk meqjusa bħala  “indipendenti”, inkella b’mod falz deskritti bħala li jaħdmu għal rashom. Dawn jispiċċaw iridu jħallsu l-ispejjes li jkollhom huma ukoll. Jispiċċaw ħafna agħar!

Dan hu skjavitù tas-seklu wieħed u għoxrin. Skjavitù diġitali!

Wara l-azzjoni industrijali tal-ġimgħa l-oħra tal-kurriera tal-ikel tal-pjattaforma diġitali, uħud mill-istabilimenti tal-ikel kienu mħassba u fetħu ħalqhom għax dan effettwalhom il-but. Ħadd ma nduna li kienu b’xi mod imħassbin huma u jużaw dan is-servizz ta dawn il-kurriera imħaddma qieshom skjavi. Xejn ma iddejqu. Il-kuxjenza ma niggżithomx.

L-istabilimenti tal-ikel li jagħmlu użu mis-servizz tal-pjattaforma diġitali mhumiex direttament responsabbli għal kif din topera! Imma, l-fatt li jagħmlu użu minna jirrendihom kompliċi f’ din l-industrija ta’ skjavitù modern li qed tiżviluppa biex taqdi lilhom.

L-azzjoni industrijali tal-ġimgħa l-oħra fetħet għajnejn bosta, inkluż ta’ dawk li kienu qed jagħmluha tal-boloh, taparsi ma jafu b’xejn. Issa hu l-waqt għal azzjoni konkreta. Azzjoni li teħtieġ li anke l-konsumatur jieqaf milli jagħmel użu mis-servizzi ta’ dawk li qed jinkoraġixxu dan l-iskjavitù diġitali  modern.

ippubblikat fuq Illum : 7 t’Awwissu 2022

Platform work: digital slave labour?

The rumblings on the working conditions of those engaged in local digital platform work have been around for some time. Last February one of them, a 28-year-old Nepalese, was involved in a fatal traffic accident in Marsa when on a food delivery trip.

This is not just a local issue. The matter is also on the radar of the European Union which is considering the introduction of an EU wide Directive “on improving the working conditions in platform work”. 

An impact assessment drawn up as an EU Commission staff working document emphasises that some of those working through digital platforms face poor working conditions and inadequate access to social protection. A number of them, says the impact assessment, are falsely classified as self-employed. As a result of the misclassification of their employment status they tend to lose various rights and protections. These include rights relative to working time, minimum wage (including the statutory bonus payable in June and December), paid annual leave, paid sick leave, parental leave and occupational health and safety.

The industrial action by Bolt food couriers last week brought to light the plight of local platform workers. “Almost nobody knows what we must go through just so that they get their food quickly” one of the couriers was quoted as saying.

It is not so well known that the food courier platform operators, in addition to collecting the delivery charges, collect substantial commissions from the food outlets which they serve. At times, I am informed that this may be as high as 30 per cent of the value of the delivery food. It was pointed out to me that this commission charged is at times evident in a discrepancy between the prices quoted online and those displayed at the food outlets themselves!

It has to be underlined that these substantial commissions do not end up in the pockets of the food couriers but in the bank accounts of the platform operators!

Some of the couriers are paid at a miserly rate of €2 per delivery, at times even less. The lucky ones can get as much as €2.50 per delivery or slightly better! This signifies that they must work very long hours to try and earn a very basic income on which to exist. To make matters worse, in those cases where the couriers are “independent” or “falsely” classified as self-employed they end up paying their own expenses. As a consequence, they end up much worse off!

This is twenty first century slave labour. It is in fact digital slave labour!

After the industrial action last week, some catering establishments have voiced their concerns as the action taken by the food courier platform workers has at the end of the day impacted their bottom line too. I do not recall hearing their concern on utilising digital slave labour: they did so without qualms. They had no second thoughts or pangs of conscience.

The catering establishments are not directly responsible for the manner in which digital platform work operates. However, the fact that they make use of it renders them complicit in the slave labour industry being developed to satisfy their bottom lines. They make it possible.

Last week’s industrial action was an eye opener for all, including those who feigned ignorance as to what was going on. Now is the time for all round action. This must also include action on the part of consumers who should not use the services of those who keep encouraging and making use of digital slave labour.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 7 August 2022

The financing of the PLPN

Through a number of articles in the local press we have been repeatedly made aware that government and its authorities do not treat the parliamentary political parties (and their commercial companies) as the rest of us when it comes to outstanding bills, including those relating to taxes due.

The regulation of party-political financing should not stop at donation reports. We need to shine the spotlight on their pending bills too as these are an additional substantial financing source which in practice serves to finance the political parties through open-ended credit facilities! It is being carried out by the state, directly and by stealth.

To be clear I am referring to outstanding VAT payments and pending water and electricity bills which go back a number of years which have accumulated to millions in outstanding dues. In addition, there are also NI and PAYE contributions collected by the parliamentary political parties and their commercial companies on behalf of the Inland Revenue Department from their employees and retained unlawfully at their end. Any private employer who acts in the same manner is normally subject to legal action, in particular for failure to act on repeated reminders to conform! If you try not paying your water and electricity bills for years on end you will very soon receive a polite notice from ARMS indicating that you will soon have no more access to water and electricity!  But it is kids gloves for the PLPN. 

The amounts due run into many millions of euros and form part of the accumulated debts of the parliamentary political parties. It is difficult to quantify the precise amounts due by PLPN and their commercial companies as the authorities continuously withhold information as to the precise accumulated amount of the arrears due. The only information available in the public domain is sourced through leaks indicating that the amounts due run into millions: an upward eight digit spiral! Public knowledge of the extremely generous credit terms which public authorities grant parliamentary political parties and their companies would reveal the systemic abuses which have been shielded for too long a time.  This information should be disclosed as this is in the public interest. Good governance requires it.

This is an indirect source of political party financing which needs to be quantified and acted upon immediately. It is unfortunate that the regulator of political party financing is the Electoral Commission which is itself composed of nominees of the PLPN, who are thus regulating themselves, in addition to regulating their direct competitors, the other political parties.

It is also about time that the commercial companies belonging to the political parties are dealt with as an integral part of the political parties which they service. Stricter controls and real-time reporting time-frames are essential if we really want to ensure that these commercial companies are not used as vehicles to channel illicit funding to oil the PLPN political machinery.

As expected PLPN are in denial. The PL insists that its companies have not entered into a deal with Yorgen Fenech. The PN on the other hand insist that all is above board at its end: they proclaim that they have not issued any fake dB invoices! Yet both of them continuously fail to play by the rules. Audited accounts for their companies have not been presented for many years. As a result, there is no way to verify whether and to what extent the PLPN commercial companies are innocent of the charges that they are being continuously used to circumvent the rules regulating the funding of political parties.

Both the PL and the PN sanctimoniously proclaim their adherence to the basic principles of good governance. It is about time that they start practicing what they preach!

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 April 2022

Issa li ħareġ ir-riżultat finali tal-elezzjoni!

F’dawn il-mumenti li qed joħorġu l-aħħar riżultati qed issir magħrufa l-komposizzjoni tal-Parlament.

Il-Parlament issa hu magħmul minn 79 membru parlamentari.

Ir-riforma li saret setgħet tat riżultati aħjar. Minflok kompliet għaffġet.

Għal uħud, li daħlu fil-Parlament 12-il mara bil-mekkaniżmu tal-ġeneru hu mument ta’ ċelebrazzjoni.

Naħseb li mhux. Anzi hu mument ta’ negazzjoni tal-proċess demokratiku.

Mhux qed nikkritika l-fatt li l-Parlament aġxxa biex jindirizza l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-komposizzjoni tal-Parlament wara l-elezzjoni. Il-kritika tiegħi u tal-partit li mmexxi hi iffukata fuq il-mod kif dan sar.

Il-Parlament spiċċa biex raqqa’ s-sistema elettorali b’mod li sistema elettorali mimlija difetti saret agħar milli kienet.

Il-Partit Laburista illum ghandu 38+ 6 = 44 siġġu parlamentari u l-Partit Nazzjonalista illum ghandu 27+ 2+ 6 = 35 siġġu parlamentari : b’kollox 79.

Il-Partit Laburista kiseb 162,707 voti fl-ewwel għadd: jiġifieri kull wieħed mill-44 siġġu parlamentari tal-PL qed jirrappreżenta 3698 vot. Il-Partit Nazzjonalista kiseb 123,233 vot fl-ewwel għadd: jiġifieri kull wieħed mill-35 siġġu parlamentari tal-PN qed jirrappreżenta 3521 vot.

L-ADPD fl-ewwel għadd kisbet 4747 voti. Bl-istess kejl li l-PN u l-PL qed japplikaw għalihom infushom aħna għandna dritt għal siġġu parlamentari aħna ukoll. Dik hi r-realtà tar-riforma li trodd il-proporzjonalità lill-PLPN u iċċaħħadha lill-bqija.

Kien hemm soluzzjonijiet oħra li kienu jirrispettaw il-volontà tal-elettorat. Sfortunatamanet dawn ġew skartati. Fid-dokument li ippreżentajna għall-konsiderazzjoni tal-kovenzjoni kostituzzjonali kif ukoll fis-sottomissjonijiet fil-proċess konsultattiv dwar kif għandu jkun indirizzat l-iżbilanċ tal-ġeneru fil-parlament repetutament għidna li hu possibli li jkollna parlament ta’ 65 membru, li jirrappreżenta proporzjonalment lill-elettorat li jagħżlu kif ukoll li jkun iktar rappreżentattiv tal-ġeneri. Imma dejjem sibna l-bibien magħluqin. Ħadd ma ried jiddiskuti.

Soluzzjoni ġusta tirrikjedi tibdil sostanzjali u mhux li tipprova temmen li solvejt problema billi toħloq oħra. Imma hemm wasalna illum!