There was a time when celebrating May Day in Malta was characterised by the working population’s expressed desire to be in the same economic position that its counterparts across the European continent and elsewhere enjoyed at the time. While we certainly do not need to go back to the darker days when even celebrating the day was considered condemnable, there has since been a 20-20 shift in fortunes.
Malta today has a thriving economy that, in the past few years, has seen a remarkable change which has mostly reflected, and in many ways, on exactly that very same sector – the working population.
There was a time when May Day was actually an organised, desperate cry for jobs, an annual opportunity to display the sadness of numerous Maltese and Gozitan families then facing an uncertain future. Emigration was their only outlet to financial and psychological respite, as can be witnessed by the size of Maltese communities that had grown in places like Australia, the US, Canada, and the UK. Today, Malta’s economic miracle has created the situation where there are more jobs available than there are Maltese workers to take them, hence the growing number of foreigners serving as an option in making sure the Island’s present economic rhythm does not miss a beat.
May Day celebrations until just a few years ago also reverberated with the call for better working conditions and improved social benefits. An ailing economy, such as we had up to 2013 when the European Commission was regularly demanding action against a growing budget deficit and spirralling national debts, could hardly be expected to provide them. Today we have seen a mushrooming of benefits – from allowances, funds, tax exemptions and facilities aimed at encouraging more women to join the labour market, to betterment schemes and initiatives for small and medium industries to develop and to delve more seriously into the global market.
Malta was the only EU member state last year to have done something substantial about the minimum wage, an old bone of contention during May Day celebrations everywhere in the world. This, with other benefits and a consistently positive attitude towards workers’ as well as employers’ needs, has resulted in an impressive reduction of people at risk from poverty, again a top EU certificate of accomplishment for Malta when compared to other member states within and without the euro zone.
Job creation is in fact the fulcrum of Malta’s economic success and the increasingly successful raid that has been staged on poverty, as well as other problems that had for too long beleaguered the disabled, the sick, the old, pensioners and single mothers, among others. Economic well-being inevitably hails from the process of job creation, thanks mainly to increased local and foreign investment which has, during the past five years, dynamised what had previously been a static market. Today’s full employment is testament to this achievement, making of May Day 2018 a true celebration as opposed to the protest factor of the past.
That all this has been achieved without incurring the introduction of any new taxes only goes to show the enormous significance of the economic and social changes that have been realized over this relatively short period of time. Perhaps the best manifestation of recognition of this newly empowered working population was seen only ten months ago when Joseph Muscat’s Labour-led movement again won the general election by a consecutive record landslide. It will, no doubt, be reflected in this year’s May Day celebration at Valletta’s splendid Pjazza Tritoni – exactly a year since the Prime Minister had called for an early resort to the polls.
May Day is not all about better paychecks and incomes, however important to families. The issue of rights has always been a major part of the working population’s agenda on this, their declared day of aspiration. Trade unions have also rightly always insisted on the importance of this issue as a feature of the annual May Day commemoration. Suffice to say that in today’s Malta even the forces of public order have been granted the opportunity to feel protected and represented by unions of their own choice.
Various other segments of the working population have also been addressed after having either spent too long a time being overlooked, as was the case with the teaching profession, or had been understandably cautious to change in their sector, as with the medical profession, that have now been assured of both their rights as well as their highly beneficial role within Maltese society.
Malta on May Day 2018 is a vibrant Malta, able and willing to sustain its economic prowess for the benefit of its working population without hindering the creative process that sees workers, employers, trade unions and families moving in the same direction. This May Day we celebrate what has been achieved, and in so doing, we also beckon an even better future for the next generations.
The Malta Independent 26.04.18