The minimum wage – running with the hare, hunting with the hounds

For all their theatrics, and as a result of their need to try and please everyone, always, PL and PN have long become copies of each other. Let’s take the rule of law. They are more interested in comparing who is the worse of them all than deep reform and they seem to agree that the system inherited from our colonisers in which the Prime Minister is basically the all-powerful ‘governor’ remains untouched bar for some patch work here and there.

Robert Abela labels deliberate misgovernment and political delinquency as ‘mistakes’. Bernard Grech, for all PN’s posturing, said that he now agrees with the sale of passports. The arguments about the indignity of it all, of attracting people with dubious backgrounds and what not seem to have all been forgotten.

The reason for this volte face, I suspect, is that many of those in his own party have their fingers in the lucrative pie, and keeping them happy is more important than any principle. Not to mention his pathetic utterings about hunting and the ‘love of nature’, and the Labour/Nationalist alliance with hunters. So much for our messianic leaders promising ‘change’!

PL and PN, while giving out different messages depending on their audience have also converged when it comes to the transformation of the minimum wage into a living wage – a wage people and families can live decently on. While in the European Parliament Labour MEPs seem to be making the right noises regarding a much needed EU directive regarding a mechanism on how minimum wages should be calculated to make work pay and to, at least move some way to eradicating in-work poverty, Malta, that is its Labour government, PM Abela and Minister Clyde Caruana at the forefront, is against a minimum wage directive.

Nationalist MEPs, Metsola and Casa, like their ‘pro-business’ EPP group, agree with the Labour Government and European business groups. Buzzwords such as ‘flexibility’ and ‘non-binding guidelines’ are bandied around. What this means is that the most powerful win, and the most vulnerable lose out. What this means is that while the single market continues to develop, the social aspect is once again sacrificed.

As, the Caritas report “A Minimum Essential Budget for a Decent Living 2020” confirms, there are serious shortcomings in the way the minimum wage is being computed in here in Malta. Malta is one of other EU countries with a very low minimum wage, a wage which doesn’t give workers the dignity and respect they deserve. This is precisely the scope of proposals for an EU Directive for a uniform method to compute minimum wages across the Union – the dignity and respect of all workers wherever they happen to reside in the Union. An increase in the minimum wage according to the criteria of the proposed Directive, described as a “double decency threshold” (60 percent of the median wage and 50 percent of the average wage) improves the wages of some 25 million workers in the European Union.

The Maltese Caritas study concludes that a family consisting of two adults and two children needs a bare minimum of €13,947 a year to live decently. This is much higher requirement than the minimum wage of €181.08 per week in 2021, even when taking into account the June and December statutory bonuses.

An EU-wide Directive on wages benefits us all. As our colleagues the Greens in the European Parliament insist, if we really believe in a social Europe, a European framework directive setting thresholds for decent adequate minimum wages in the member states that ensures all workers a decent living and is poverty proof is absolutely necessary. The European Framework must be an instrument that that improves the situation of precarious workers in the entire Union. We need a European framework directive setting thresholds for decent adequate minimum wages in the Member States to avoid a race to the bottom and unfair competition based on low wages. Arguing otherwise means that workers remain at the mercy of greed and profit-maximisation at all costs and at the expense of our quality of life.

It is possible to respect the diversity of labour market models and different national wage setting traditions in different countries and at the same time ensure that we move towards a more social Europe, where everyone lives in dignity and in-work poverty becomes a thing of the past.

Ralph Cassar
ADPD Secretary General
Published in The Malta Independent – Sunday 11 April 2021