That the Maltese economy is going full-throttle is a statement of fact regularly bolstered by the independent conclusions of the world’s major rating agencies. It is no longer a phenomenon but a reality that has, over the past five years, seen the Island reach what is practically a state of zero unemployment.

Inevitably, employers have had to seek the services of foreign workers to be able to sustain their operations, particularly in sectors where there simply were not enough qualified Maltese to fill the jobs. However, one may remark, Malta still has a 3.5% unemployment rate, albeit the second smallest within the whole European Union. That figure undoubtedly covers those persons who genuinely cannot work either because of their phsyical or mental condition as well as a small minority of so-called spongers who findeasyaccess to generous social benefits – the unemployables!

Social benefits are, after all, meant to assist the needy and the unfortunate in a welfare state that has a flexible system which provides financial resources and other means of support to those who, for good and proven reasons, do not have the possibility of an income, namely a job. It is the minuscule sector of unemployed who are openly abusing the system by getting benefits when they should be working, that is denying the national economy from the opportunity of exploiting the full potential of its work force.

Able-bodied persons who have no reason to remain unemployed still benefit from State assistance need to be identified and targeted in a way that they can be trained, guided and encouraged to become a part of the labour market on these Islands. Of course this does not apply to those who are registered with JobsPlus where a sound and efficient system of training and job provision is already in place and working just fine. It has in fact been established that the number of persons dependent on social benefits was reduced by half since 2013 and the beginning of this legislature. No mean feat that.

Welfare states everywhere have always had to contend with the reality of that small minority of people who keep on declining job offers within their competence and qualifications at what are deemed to be the right salaries. In Malta’s case, the issue takes a hilarious, if not tragic, twist when one is made aware of what reasons some people come up with on turning down yet another job offer. For example: “Qormi is too far from Valletta”, “I’d rather stay at home and get €400 per month than work” and “A forty-hour week is too long”.

Needless to say, this is creating real problems for employers, particularly those who belong to the vast majority of small and micro enterprises that make a highly resourceful and successful contribution to the economy. While they instinctively search for staff from local sources, most of them find attracting foreign workers to their enterprises as too massive a challenge. It is why these businesses and entrepreneurs, undoubtedly the creators of wealth and jobs on these Islands, must be safeguarded from the negative impact of a social benefit scheme that is still abused by those who prefer milking it rather than opting for and getting a decent job.

The importance of social benefits even in a prosperous country cannot be overstated. I dare say they should even be increased in certain geneuine cases to ensure that those who need them can have a dignified and decent living. Malta cannot lose her social conscience and this has been shown on numerous occasions. As Budget Day approaches, people are aware that the fruits of what is today a vibrant economy will continue to be accrued and, as we have seen throughout the past five years under the Joseph Muscat administration, social benefits will again claim an important place within the Labour Government’s projections for 2019.

But while improved social benefits are no burden on the taxpayer at a time of economic boom, the spongers and the cheaters always are. Identifying them and persuading them to be a part of this on-going Maltese success is a social requisite, not a war to be waged against them. Perhaps it is time to drag the net and catch those who have: (1) skills but won’t tell; (2) dormant ambitions; and (3) a lack of self-belief; (4) are simply too lazy to work.

Working for a living is every man’s and woman’s right. Maltese history is replete with instances, many of them even stretching into decades, of disregard to this human right. We do not need to go into details here, but the huge Maltese communities in places like Australia, Canada and the US, most of them found thriving and happily successful, are still, however, sad and constant monuments to those periods when jobs on these Islands were as scarce as water resources.

Having made a case for those in real need, we must not fall into the trap of burdening the busy, the industrious and the entrepreneurial with the lazy and the spongers. No economy should allow that… not even a thriving one like ours.

 

The Malta Independent 30.08.18

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