The debate in Europe is currently turning to regulatory intervention for a European minimum wage. While the idea of pushing for standardization of the minimum wage across the continent may garner support from different quarters, its calculation may raise objections that make the central idea less attractive than it seems in value. nominal.
While taking a stand on the minimum wage and workers ‘rights in Brussels, in Valletta our Government Ministers are monitoring a whole set of breaches and questionable practices to the detriment of workers’ rights, signed actively by none other than the ‘socialist’ Government. itself.
The phenomenon is largely hidden from the public eye, but people speak with confidence. Over the past year, I have been told of many cases of people with employment contracts with government companies or other public services that blatantly violate a set of rules and principles of worker protection. While Government data is still scarce and difficult to follow, the few published figures indicate that we currently have thousands of public and pseudo-service contracts paid for with public money through a private contractor. for work in the public domain.
These contracts relate to a variety of activities, from road works to customer care operations from government companies to agencies to ministries. They have a common feature of being ‘invisible’ jobs in the public employment list, which incidentally also increased from 40,000 to 51,000 under the Labor watchdog. But these other thousands do not appear there. These jobs do not have the mandate of safe public service work and are not legally under government books. Instead, a private contractor is used. They get a chunky tender from the Government and then hire people to do public works, often at or near the minimum wage. The government can say that unemployment is at an all-time low, while the contractor gets hundreds of thousands in ‘administrative fees’. Everyone wins, right? Well, almost, apart from the workers involved.
Another feature common to these thousands of jobs is that they always promote an unequal pay situation for equal work. Yes, that sounds funny right? The principle usually speaks of ‘Equal Pay for Equal Work’ but the current ‘socialist’ government practice promotes a system whereby the same workplace hosts regular public service employees who share a desk with the hired contract agent. through the private intermediary company. They share an identical desk or common task, but the salary at the end of the month can vary up to 1,000 euros between them. That’s equal pay equal work Labor style.
Until a few weeks ago these contract workers were being asked to work on Sundays and public holidays without any additional compensation. This is clearly in breach of the Labor Regulation Orders, our local employment rules which dictate that work on Sundays and public holidays must be overcompensated. For years, these rules have been neglected, the Government complacent about the ongoing illegality in its own companies and agencies, while the private contractor has gained financially from the breach as it has kept its piece of cake pie intact. It is only in this year’s budget that the Labor government finally announces a rule for these contract workers to be overpaid for Sunday’s work. No mention is made of the right to take back the rights to Sundays worked over the years.
In a job where you are paid less by colleagues for the same job and where the ‘public’ employer fails to give you your Sunday job, I leave you to imagine what measures in place you will find to ensure your on-the-job training. and personal development. Jargon such as improving skills and lifelong learning is evidently left to the flashes of the media. None of these find themselves in these precarious contracts. The same goes for Labor’s keen idea of a living wage, put in place by Muscat before it came to power, and then it sank deep into the Government’s practices of promoting precarious work and a minimum wage.
With the above context at home, the Labor Government and its four MEPs should now represent Malta’s position in the ongoing debate on the minimum wage in Europe. The Council of Ministers has already had its first discussion on the issue. One would be curious to see the management by Malta’s own representative around that table. Did he argue for stronger collective bargaining rules as the French did while issuing thousands of public contracts without any provision for a basic collective bargaining agreement at home?
And what about the position of Maltese Labor MEPs in the European Parliament? The item is up for debate in Strasbourg next week. They will have to argue for the private sector in Malta to meet the challenge of a higher minimum wage while their colleague Robert Abela promotes precarious work with 800 euros a month in government agencies and bodies in Malta and especially in Gozo?
Peter Agius, PN spokesman and MEP candidate