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

Ensuring a guaranteed basic income

The need for a decent basic income is an all-time issue among those who have a social conscience. However, it assumes more importance in times like these, when prices of essential goods are spiralling upwards, almost out of control.

The perennial question is whether the income received by each person through employment (or a pension) should be sufficient or else whether such income derived from employment or a pension should be supplemented through a social wage, when, on its own, it is insufficient for ensuring a decent living.

Various jurisdictions are experimenting with this idea through pilot projects. As a result, they are seeking to reinforce a social net, protecting the vulnerable through ensuring that each is guaranteed a basic income irrespective of his or her circumstances in life. Each person has the right to have the basic means to ensure a decent life.

The basic facts should, by now, be clear to all.

The three Caritas studies published to date have revealed a widening gap between the official minimum wage and three different categories of vulnerable households.

In the case of a household consisting of 2 adults and 2 children this gap is approximately 40 per cent, at 2020 prices. In fairness it has to be clarified that this gap does not include the receipt of social solidarity income, amongst which children allowances and the various forms of supplementary social income which may be applicable to specific circumstances. When this is taken into account, I believe that in most cases the gap is substantially reduced.

The current price rise of essential goods, average close to a 25 per cent rise in a number of cases, (although a number of items have had much steeper price increases) brings to the fore another worry. Cost of living adjustments to wages and pensions are effective at the beginning of the year, and reflect the cost of living of the previous twelve months.

The last statutory cost of living increase has been of €1.75 per week, less than the cost of a cappuccino. During the past years such increases have varied from a €5.82 per week increase in 2010 to a €0.58 per week increase in 2015.

At times this increase is deemed to be too low as was the 2015 COLA adjustment.

It is essential that the basket of goods and services utilised to measure the actual cost of living is updated on a regular basis in order to ensure that the results obtained are realistic and reflect actual needs.

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana has over the past weeks emphasised that he is considering proposals to introduce a new form of COLA for low-income people. So far, however, nothing has materialised. The Minister has hinted that he is discussing various proposals behind closed doors. Would it not be a much better idea if the discussion is externalised? Everyone of us is interested in the proposals being drafted and discussed.

One possibility which should be considered is not to keep accumulating the cost-of-living dues and carry out adjustments to the minimum wage (and pensions) on the following January. It should be possible to carry out cost of living adjustments to the minimum wage as well as to pensions twice a year, towards the end of June and towards the end of December.  In times of steep price increases, as the present, such an initiative could make a substantial difference to the vulnerable and those on low income.

Ensuring that each has a basic decent income is a basic requirement in the development of the welfare state.

published Malta Independent on Sunday : 30 January 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

A minimum income for a decent living

Within the European Union structures a debate has commenced on adequate minimum wages throughout the Union. Commission President Ursula von der Leyen had stated on her appointment that she would be proposing a legal instrument to ensure that every worker in the Union has a fair minimum wage.

The consultation process within the EU was launched over one year ago. As a result, a proposal for an EU Directive on adequate minimum wages has been finalised together with a number of supporting documents, including a 240 page long extensive impact assessment

In an explanatory memorandum published by the EU together with the text of the proposed Directive it is emphasised that “in the majority of EU Member States with national statutory minimum wages, minimum wages are too low vis-à-vis other wages or to provide a decent living even if they have increased in recent years.” In its impact assessment, the EU Commission calculated that an increase of national minimum wages according to the double decency threshold (60% of the median and 50% of the average wage) would improve the wages of around 25 million workers in Europe.

Malta is one such state with a low minimum wage which does not suffice, in particular, for vulnerable categories. A Caritas study published last Friday once more identifies short-comings of the minimum wage in Malta, when this is the only source of income for a number of vulnerable households.

The Caritas study entitled “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” follows previous studies published by Caritas in 2012 and 2016 as a result of which detailed research illustrates how the basic needs of vulnerable households, cannot be addressed if these households are dependent on one minimum wage as their only source of income.

The latest Caritas study concludes that a household comprising two adults and two children require €13947 annually as a minimum for a decent living, while if the household consists of a lone parent and two children this requirement drops to €11038. This is well below the 2021 statutory minimum wage which is currently €181.08 per week even if one also takes into consideration the June and December statutory bonus. On the other hand, the requirements of a household consisting of an elderly couple adds up to €8157 annually, concludes the Caritas study. This last figure, which is manageable, is however qualified in the Caritas report in that it may vary substantially due to the myriad of costs specific to the lifestyle and health status of the elderly.

The above excludes cases where the minimum wage earner needs to fork out expenses for a privately rented dwelling, in which case subsistence is practically impossible. The Caritas 2020 report emphasises that impact of the rent due “can dramatically affect the financial circumstances and quality of life of low-income households”.

The agreement signed by government with the social partners in 2017 as a result of which after one year in receipt of a minimum wage there are mandatory increases of €3 per week and an additional €3 per week after the second year, was a step forward and without doubt lessens the burdens of minimum wage earners. But this is certainly not enough. An overhaul of the method of calculation of the minimum wage is essential as this has to be reflective of real and actual needs. It has to be capable of sustaining a dignified living.

The recent news that the Maltese government is among the EU Member states which are objecting to EU legislation that would set up a framework regulating the minimum wage is worrying as the Maltese Government has been reluctant to take steps ensuring that the minimum wage is revised periodically to reflect actual needs. ADPD has long been advocating for this revision. However, the Labour government has repeatedly indicated that it was more interested in helping the wealthy get even wealthier. It was more interested in defending the crooks in its midst.

Our society needs to guarantee a basic income for all which is sufficient for a decent living. A number of countries are carrying out trials to identify the best way forward in this respect. The Universal Basic Income or UBI is being tested in a number of countries through pilot projects.

There is much to learn not just from these pilot projects. Malta’s Covid-19 wage supplement, for example, was a worthy initiative which merits further consideration. If properly applied it can form the basis of a long-term initiative to guarantee a minimum income for all. Obviously, it is easier said than done but we need to start some long-term planning which addresses the need to guarantee a minimum income for all thereby ensuring that all have access to sufficient resources to live a dignified life. This is the next step for the welfare state.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday: 7 February 2021

Sandro u l-politika tas-supermarkets

 

Sandro.big shops

 

Sandro Chetcuti jqis liż-żewġ partiti (l-kbar) bħala żewġt iħwienet (kbar) li fihom in-nies tal-business (u b’mod partikolari l-iżviluppaturi tal-MDA) jinqdew meta jkollhom bżonn. Ġieli jixtru mingħand wieħed u ġieli mingħand l-ieħor.  Skond x’ (policies) ikollhom għall-bejgħ. Min jixtri u min ibiegħ.

Forsi bla ma jrid, u mingħajr ma qagħad jomgħod il-kliem, Sandro poġġa sebgħu fuq il-ferita l-kbira fil-politika Maltija: il-politika tal-partiti l-kbar m’hiex ibbażata fuq dak li (suppost) jemmnu iżda fuq dak li jaħsbu li jista’ jġibilhom il-voti.

Allura għandna partit soċjalista li jitkellem u jaħdem kontra t-taxxa tad-dħul f’kompetizzjoni mal-konservattivi.

Il-konservattivi qatt ma kellhom ħeġġa biex jirrevedu l-paga minima. Imma li l-partit soċjalista (li jistħi jgħid li hu hekk) qiegħed attent idur u jdur biex jevita li jmiss mal-ħtieġa li jkun revedut il-basket li fuqu hi ibbażata l-paga minima, l-anqas titwemmen. Tinġieb elf skuża u tingħata elf spjegazzjoni għal dan.

Il-politika tas-supermarket li jħaddnu kemm il-Partit Nazzjonalista u l-Partit Laburista twassalhom biex fil-għodu jisfnu mal-ambjentalisti u waranofsinnhar jisfnu ma Sandro u sħabu. Hija politika tal-kuntrasti li jbikkuk.

Niftakar, snin ilu, lil min jirrakkonta storja dwar Membru Parlamentari Malti li tillustra din is-sitwazzjoni.

Dan il-Membru Parlamentari kienu kellmuh il-kumitat tal-każin tal-banda ta’ lokalità ewlenija fid-distrett elettorali tiegħu. Kienu inkwetati għax kellhom diffikultà dwar il-kamra tan-nar li dwarha kienu qed isibu opposizzjoni mill-bdiewa fl-inħawi.  Il-Membru Parlamentari irranġalhom appuntament mal-Ministru u għodwa waħda mar magħhom sal-Ministeru. Lil Ministru spjegalu kemm kien meħtieġ li jgħin lill-kostitwenti tiegħu li qed jagħtu kontribut kbir għall-ħajja soċjali  u kulturali fil-lokalità. Il-Ministru ħa nota u kemmex xuftejh.

Ftit ġranet wara, l-istess Membru Parlamentari kellu appuntament ieħor mal-istess Ministru. Din id-darba kien qed jakkumpanja delegazzjoni tal-bdiewa, irrabjati minħabba l-kamra tan-nar ippjanata għal ġo nofs ir-raba’ li jaħdmu.

(Ġrajja li tnissillek tbissima u li għalkemm kienu semmewli l-ismijiet tal-persuni involuti, mhux konvint li fil-fatt ġrat.)

Din hi l-politika tal-partiti l-kbar li jsemmi Sandro. Politika mhux ibbażata fuq dak li jemmnu, iżda fuq kif jingħoġbu. Il-politika ta’ kollox għal kulħadd ……….. bħall-ixkafef tas-supermarket.

Il-baġit hu wieħed nej

Scicluna + Speaker 2016

 

Il- baġit fih diversi ingridjenti tajbin. Iżda m’humiex imħalltin tajjeb. M’hemmx ħsieb biżżejjed. L-anqas m’huma msajra biżżejjed. Kif ngħidu bil-Malti: il-baġit hu nofsu nej.

F’dan l-artiklu ser nillimita ruħi għal uħud mill-proposti ta’ natura soċjali.

Nibda bil-paga minima. F’Malta din ġiet introdotta fl-1974 mit-tieni Gvern tal-Perit Mintoff.  Dakinnhar kienet stabilita għall-ammont ta’ Lm10, jiġifieri €23.29. Ovvjament Lm10, dakinnhar, kienu jiswew u bihom kont tixtri ferm iktar mill-tixtri illum. Kull sena, din il-paga minima tiżdied b’ammont li jikkumpensa għaż-żieda fil-għoli tal-ħajja. L-ammont jitħabbar fil- baġit. Iż-żieda b’effett minn l-1 ta’ Jannar li ġej ser tkun €1.75 biex b’hekk il-paga minima għal persuna ta’ il-fuq minn tmintax-il sena għal ġimgħa xogħol ta’ 40 siegħa issa ser tkun €168.01. Ma din irid jiżdied il-bonus statutorju.

Il-paga minima teħieġ li tkun reveduta. Meta tfasslet fl-1974, tfasslet għall-ħtiġijiet ta’ dakinnhar.

Illum, wara 41 sena teħtieġ titfassal mill-ġdid skont il-ħtiġijiet tal-lum. Fil-fatt studju li kien ippubblikat mill-Caritas f’Marzu 2012 kien jistma illi hu meħtieġ li jkun hemm żieda ta’ 13.8% fil-paga minima biex l-iktar persuni vulnerabbli jingħataw in-nifs.  Ir-rapport kien intitolat A Minimum Budget for a Decent Living. A research study by Caritas Malta focusing on three low-income household categories.

Il-Gvern,(kemm dak tal-lum kif ukoll dak tal-bieraħ) ma jaqbilx ma dan. L-argument politiku tagħhom hu li bit-taħriġ u l-investiment iffokat fuq il-kisba ta’ ħiliet, ikun possibli li taqla’ l-persuni fuq il-paga minima u ċċaqlaqhom ‘il-fuq fis-sellum tal-ħajja. Din hi idea nobbli imma fil-prattika, iddum ma tagħtik ir-riżultati. Sadanittant min hu vulnerabbli jispiċċa dipendenti mill-ħarsien soċjali u għajnuniet supplimentari. Jintgħaġen fid-dipendenza. Il-paga għal dawn in-nies mhiex biżżejjed għall-minimu neċessarju tal-ħajja. In-nuqqas tal-istat li jintervjeni biex il-paga minima toffri l-protezzjoni minima meħtieġa, hu messaġġ li bix-xogħol ma tistax tgħix meta dan jitħallas bil-paga minima li għandna illum.

Huwa neċessarju li nżewġu flimkien it-taħriġ, ma’ paga minima suriet in-nies li tkun rifless tal-ħtiġijiet minimi għall-bniedem tal-lum. In-nuqqas tal- baġit li jagħraf din il-ħtieġa u jagħġina bħala parti integrali mill-viżjoni tiegħu jagħmlu l-baġit wieħed nej.

Il- baġit jirrikonoxxi l-ħtieġa li togħla l-pensjoni minima nazzjonali biex din eventwalment tasal sa 60% tad-dħul medju f’pajjiżna.  Jagħmel  l-ewwel pass  billi jipproponi żieda fil-pensjoni minima għall-dawk li għandhom il-bolol tas-sigurta soċjali mħallsa b’tali mod li l-anqas pensjoni kontributorja ser tkun €7,280 fis-sena.  Dan hu pass tajjeb. Ħadd ma jistenna li l-aġġustament meħtieġ isir kollu f’daqqa. Imma l-pensjonanti tagħna li bnew  lil Malta kif inhi illum, bi dritt jippretendu li jkun stabilit żmien raġjonevoli sa meta l-pensjoni minima nazzjonali tkun 60% tad-dħul medju f’pajjiżna. Mhux biżżejjed li l-baġit  jgħid li dan it-tragward nilħquh sal-2027. Ikun xieraq li l-pensjonanti tagħna jingħataw lura d-dinjità w ir-rispett li jistħoqilhom. Anke hawn il-baġit kien jonqsu ftit ieħor biex isir. Għadu nofsu  nej.

L-aħħar eżempju li rrid insemmi huwa dwar il-persuni b’diżabilità. Il-baġit isemmi l-ħolqien ta’ hub għal persuni b’diżabilità. Il-baġit hu xott mid-dettalji u fil-fatt jiddedika biss 6 linji għal din il-proposta fil-paġna 77 tiegħu. Dawn id-dettalji imma kienu biżżejjed biex nhar il-Ħamis li għadda, l-eks-chairman tal-Kummissjoni Nazzjonali għall-Persuni b’Diżabilità Joseph Camilleri jiddeskirivi dak propost bħala attentat biex tkun introdotta s-segregazzjoni bis-serqa (Segregation by stealth. Times of Malta, October 15, 2015).

Joseph Camilleri jargumenta li għad hawn min ma jistax jaċċetta l-fatt li l-persuni b’diżabilità ukoll għandhom l-istess aspirazzjonijiet bħal kull wieħed u waħda minna. Għaddew minn istituzzjonijiet edukattivi li taw importanza ikbar lill-inklussività, u dan b’differenza kbira minn dak li rċevew il-ġenerazzjonijiet passati.

Il-proposta fil-baġit li toħloq dan il-hub għall-persuni b’diżabilità hu għaldaqstant pass retrogradu, nieqes mill-ħsieb u huwa anke perikoluż.  Is-soċjetà Maltija tant imxiet il-quddiem, li d-Dar tal-Providenza, il-pijuniera f’Malta tal-kura għall-persuni b’diżabilità, illum il-ġurnata qed tiffoka l-enerġija tagħha fuq inizjattivi bbażati fil-komunità li joffru opportunitajiet għal għixien indipendenti lill-persuni b’diżabilità.

Anke hawn il-baġit hu nej għax huwa nieqes mill-ħsieb. Post il-persuni b’diżabilità hu magħna fil-komunità u mhux ġo gaġġa bil-vireg tad-deheb. Għax is-segregazzjoni tibqa’ gaġġa u irrispettivament mill-kwalità għolja tas-servizz mogħti, tibqa’ ħajja f’gaġġa li toqtol l-aspirazzjonijiet tal-persuni b’diżabilità. Qed nitkellmu dwar persuni, mhux dwar numri.

Għalhekk, u għal bosta raġunijiet oħra, l-baġit ta’ nhar it-Tnejn kien wieħed nofsu nej.

Ippubblikat fil-gazzetta Illum, il-Ħadd 18 t’Ottubru 2015