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

Paga minima diċenti

Nhar it-Tnejn, waqt id-diskors tal-buġit konna infurmati biż-żieda statutorja annwali fil-paga minima. Kif nafu ser tkun żieda ta’ €1.75. Bosta ikkummentaw li dan mhux biżżejjed. Hi r-reazzjoni naturali li nisimgħu kważi kull sena.

Meta żieda fil-paga minima, li nirreferu għaliha bħala żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja, ma tikkorrispondix ma kemm fil-fatt il-ħajja tkun qed togħla jinħolqu bosta problemi għall-persuni u gruppi vulnerabbli.  Meta żieda għall-għoli tal-ħajja ma tkunx adegwata, din tiekol ukoll mill-valur tal-pagi li jkunu għola mill-paga minima. Dan iseħħ minħabba li l-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li jintużaw biex permezz tagħhom titkejjel żieda fl-għoli tal-ħajja ma jkunx għadu jirrifletti r-realtà dwar il-ħtiġijiet bażiċi tan-nies.

Aħna, bħala partit ilna żmien nitkellmu dwar il-ħtieġa li jkun aġġornat il-kontenut tal-baskett ta’ oġġetti u servizzi li bih titkejjel l-għoli tal-ħajja u tkun determinata l-paga minima. Dan irid ikun aġġornat għaż-żminijiet.  

Il-Caritas f’Malta għamlet diversi studji dwar dan. L-aħħar wieħed li kien ippubblikat f’Diċembru 2020 kien jiffoka fuq tlett kategoriji vulnerabbli bi dħul baxx. Ir-rapport kien intitolat : A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living. Jiena diġa ktibt dwar dan f’dawn il-paġni fi Frar li għadda.  Dwar familja li tikkonsisti f’żewġ adulti u żewġt itfal l-istudju tal-Caritas kien ikkonkluda li bil-prezzijiet tal-2020, bħala minimu, kienu meħtieġa  €14,000 f’sena għal għixien diċenti. Bejn wieħed u ieħor dak hu madwar  €4,000 iktar mill-paga minima attwali. Il-paga minima mhiex paga li tista’ tgħix biha. Min hu bil-paga minima qed jgħix fil-faqar minkejja li jaħdem.  

Qabel ma tħabbar il-buġit iktar kmieni din il-ġimgħa mill-Ministru tal-Finanzi Clyde Caruana, hu parla ħafna dwar proposta li qal li kien qed iħejji biex ikunu ndirizzati l-ħtiġijiet tal-persuni vulnerabbli lil hinn minn dak li tipprovdi l-COLA (Il-mekkaniżmu ta’ aġġustament fil-pagi għall-għoli tal-ħajja).  Imma meta qara l-buġit, minkejja li dam jaqra mhux ħażin, ma qal xejn minn dan. Irid jistudja iktar mal-imsieħba soċjali, qal!

Il-proċess konsultattiv dwar proposta għal direttiva tal-EU dwar paga minima diċenti ilu ftit għaddej. Il-proposta tfittex biex toħloq għodda aċċettabli ħalli bihom tkun tista’ tiġi mkejla kemm għandha tkun il-paga minima f’kull pajjiż individwali tal-EU. Fl-istudju dwar l-impatti ta’ din il-direttiva kien emfasizzat li l-paga minima tkun waħda adegwata meta tkun ġusta fil-konfront tal-pagi ta’ ħaddiema oħrajn u meta tipprovdi għal għixien diċenti.Dan fil-kuntest tal-kundizzjonijiet ekonomiċi tal-pajjiżi individwali.  Il-proposta tal-EU tfisser kif dan jista’ jsir b’għodda statistika.

Malta hi wieħed minn disa’ pajjiżi Ewropej fejn il-paga minima li titħallas skond il-liġi mhiex garanzija kontra r-riskju tal-faqar. Minkejja dan Malta hi wieħed mill-pajjiżi li qed jopponu l-introduzzjoni ta’ direttiva li tindirizza bis-serjetà l-adegwatezza tal-paga minima.

L-istudju tal-Caritas diġa żvela li l-paga minima jonqosha €4,000 fis-sena biex toqrob lejn paga diċenti. Iktar ma ddum ma tittieħed azzjoni din id-differenza iktar ser tikber. Huwa ferm aħjar li tiżdied il-paga kemm hemm bżonn milli jkunu ntrodotti servizzi soċjali addizzjonali biex jagħmlu tajjeb għan-nuqqas.  

Min jaħdem għandu dritt għal paga ġusta: il-paga minima mhiex waħda ġusta. Il-paga minima trid tkun paga li tista’ tgħix biha għax tkun tkopri l-ħtiġijiet bażiċi tal-familja. Għandna bżonn ekonomija sensittiva għall-ħtiġijiet umani.

M’għandniex noqgħodu nistennew soluzzjoni Ewropeja. L-istudju tal-Caritas ilu li wera lil kulħadd ir-realità. Imma  l-Parlament jibqa’ jinjora dan kollu.   Huma biss Membri Parlamentari eletti minn fost dawk ippreżentati minn ADPD li jistgħu jibdew it-triq għal deċizjoni li torbot ħalli l-paga minima tkun waħda li tista’ tgħix biha.

Ippubblikat fuq Illum: il-Ħadd 17 t’ Ottubru 2021

Minimum wage should be a living wage

During the budget speech on Monday, we were informed of the statutory (annual) increase to the minimum wage as of next January. It is a €1.75 increase, as we well know. Many have commented that it is not enough. It is a natural reaction which we hear about almost year in year out.

When an increase in the minimum wage, also referred to as a cost-of-living increase, does not correspond to the actual increase in the cost of living, it creates a lot of problems for vulnerable persons and groups. It also erodes the value of wages currently above the minimum. This occurs because the basket of goods and services used to gauge the cost-of-living increase is out of tune and does not correspond to what is actually occurring on the ground.

Greens have repeatedly insisted on the need to replace the current basket of goods and services used to determine the minimum wage. The contents of such a basket cannot be static as our needs change with time continuously.

Caritas in Malta has carried out various studies in this respect. The latest was carried out and published in December 2020 and focused on three low-income household categories. It is entitled: A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living. I have already written on the matter in these pages (A minimum income for a decent living: 7 February 2021). In respect of a family composed of 2 adults and 2 children, it was concluded, in the Caritas study, that the minimum budget required at 2020 prices was slightly under €14,000. That is approximately €4,000 over and above the actual minimum wage. Those earning a minimum wage are clearly the working poor. The minimum wage is not a living wage

Prior to the budget announced earlier this week Finance Minister Clyde Caruana made many noises on a proposal that, he said, he was planning for the budget speech. The proposal he had in mind would address the needs of vulnerable persons which needs, the COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) does not address. However, when push came to shove no such proposal materialised: the Minister declared that together with MCESD he will only study the matter further!

A consultation process on a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages within the EU has been under way for some time. The proposal seeks to determine the manner in which an adequate minimum wage is to be determined. The impact assessment carried out relative to the EU proposals emphasises that “Minimum wages can be considered adequate when they are fair vis-à-vis the wages of other workers and when they provide a decent standard of living, taking into account general economic conditions in the country.” The EU proposal proposes the creation of a “double decency threshold” which would ensure decent minimum wages. This threshold is expressed in terms of the median and average wages in the different member states.

Malta is one of nine European countries where the statutory minimum wage does not protect minimum wage earners against the risk of poverty. Yet Malta is one of the countries which is opposing a mandatory EU Directive addressing the adequacy of the minimum wage!

The Caritas study has already revealed that the gap between the minimum wage and the required level of decency is to the tune of €4,000 per annum. The longer it takes for action to materialise the wider the gap will become.  It is the minimum wage which must increase, not government handouts.

Making work pay? The minimum wage should be a living wage: it should be sufficient for the basic needs of a family, but unfortunately it is not. We need an economy which cares.

We should not wait for an EU solution to our minimum wage problem. The Caritas study has indicated the way forward many moons ago. Yet Parliament keeps ignoring it!  Only Green Members of Parliament can ensure that Parliament addresses this decency gap thereby ensuring that the minimum wage is also living wage.

published in the Malta Independent on Sunday : 17 October 2021

It-tradiment tal-Labour Party

Qed jgħidulna li min iħaddem, jiġifieri l-Malta Employers Association (MEA) qed jaqbel mal-Partit Laburista. Tafu dwar xiex? Għax il-Partit Laburista ma jridx li jirrevedi l-paga minima (ħlief għal żieda dovuta għall-għoli tal-ħajja).

Issa jiena naħseb li ħadd ma hu ta’ subgħajh f’ħalqu. Hu ċar għal kulħadd li l-Partit Laburista immexxi minn Joseph Muscat aċċetta l-posizzjoni ta’ min iħaddem li ma jridux li l-paga minima tkun reveduta.

Iżda mhux hekk kien jgħid Joseph Muscat meta kien jinsisti li għandu jkun inkoraġġit l-kunċett ta’ living wage għax il-minimum wage m’hiex biżżejjed.  Issa għal Muscat u l-Labour Party, dak li jippretendi li hu progressiv, l-minimum wage tidher li hi biżżejjed.

F’Marzu li għadda, għal min jiftakar, il-Caritas Malta ippubblikat rapport intitolat: A Minimum Budget for a Decent Living. A Research Study by Caritas Malta focusing on three low-income household categories. Fost id-diversi rakkomandazzjonijiet tagħha f’dan ir-rapport il-Caritas kienet irrakkomandat dwar il-ħtieġa li l-minimum wage tiżdied bi 13.8% u ċjoe minn €158.11 għal €180 għal ġimgħa ta’ 40 siegħa xogħol.

L-aħħar punt: il-Labour qed jgħid li flok ma jirrevedi l-paga minima fi ħsiebu jraħħas il-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma. Jiġifieri l-Labour Party daħal f’alleanza man-negozju u l-industrija biex bl-iskuża li qed iraħħas il-kontijiet għan-nies tal-paga jissussidja l-kontijiet tad-dawl u l-ilma tal-industrija u n-negozju.  Dan mhux biss hu populiżmu ta’ l-agħar tip talli hu r-riċetta preċiża biex ikompli jitkisser il-pajjiż. Għax biex iraħħas il-kontijiet mod wieħed għandu : jżid it-taxxi biex jagħmel tajjeb għall-ispejjes tal-Korporazzjoni Enemalta.  U dwar dan m’hu jgħid xejn (għalissa).

Mela issa għanda żewġ partiti konservattivi f’Malta : dak ta’ Lawrence Gonzi u dak ta’ Joseph Muscat li t-tnejn qed ifittxu li jaqdu mill-koxxa lill-big business. Il-Partit Laburista bil-posizzjoni li ħa dwar il-paga minima qed jittradixxi n-nies tax-xogħol u daħal f’alleanza mal-big business.

New Labour! La progressiv u wisq inqas moderat!