[WATCH] Government employment schemes have broken Gozitan job market - Said

Government is not being honest on state of employment in Gozo, shadow minister insists as Anton Refalo defended the statistics • Opposition spokesman claims two policemen were transferred on suspicion they had passed him information he referred to during a speech in Parliament

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Yannick Pace
2 March 2017, 10:40pm
Saviour Balzan (left) with Anton Refalo (centre) and Chris Said (left)
Saviour Balzan (left) with Anton Refalo (centre) and Chris Said (left)
According to shadow minister for Gozo Chris Said, job schemes like the community work scheme, have broken the job market in Gozo and are leading to the creation of more precarious work.

Said was a guest on the program XTRA, together with Gozo minister Anton Refalo, where the two discussed employment in Gozo among other subjects.

Host Saviour Balzan rasied the issue of employment, which he said has been a perennial problem for Gozo for some time. He said that government jobs are highly sought after in Gozo, mainly because there is the perception that such a job constitutes a “long-term investment,” because of flexibility resulting from a lack of enforcement of rules in the public sector.

Refalo however pushed back against the assertion saying it was a “big mistake” to think this was the case. He pointed to NSO statistics, which he said show that this was not the case, and that “these things do not exist.”

“If you look at the numbers you had 1,351 jobs in Gozo, 1,090 are jobs in the private sector,” said Refalo, while pointing out that Gozo’s economy was doing better today than it was in 2012.

“Let’s assume your argument is correct, with more government jobs does the Gozitan economy do well?” he said “Gozo’s GDP has gone up from €3.5 million to €35 million.”

Said however stressed that the biggest preoccupation for Gozitans remained employment. “This government promised jobs for all Gozitans, however we have seen the proportion of Gozitans working in Malta increase,” he said. “We have gone back to the mentality we had 30 years ago, with employees leaving their job in search of a government position.”

Chris Said
Chris Said
Said said that he had spoken with one Gozitan employer in particular who said that he had a worker leave a €1,500-a-month job to join a government scheme on a part-time basis. Furthermore, he said accused the government of being disingenuous in the way unemployment figures were being calculated.

“Roughly 300 employees in Gozo enrolled in the [General Workers’ Union’s (GWU)] community work scheme, are working at private companies,” he said. “They aren’t considered to be government jobs but they are doing government work, with GWU making money off them, while they receive the minimum wage.”

Said said that the practice was negatively impacting the Gozitan job market because employers are unable to recruit workers.

Refalo insisted however, that the Gozitan ministry runs only one scheme in Gozo – the work exposure scheme – and emphasised that the community work scheme being referred to by Said, is a national one.

“The minister is happy that we are creating minimum wage jobs. The median wage in Gozo is €1,300 less than it is in Malta. Under a Nationalist government, it was €380 less,” said Said, adding that while it was lower, the difference was three-times as small. “This is being cause by precarious work being created in Gozo.”

Asked by Balzan whether Refalo could guarantee whether anything similar to the ‘works for votes’ scandal, where works were carried out on people’s homes in exchange for votes, was currently taking place in Gozo.

The minister said that this was not happening, adding that an investigation had taken place following accusations made by the PN which had found no cases of political favours.

Law enforcement

Asked about the MaltaToday article which revealed that two-high ranking Gozo politicians met, after which a person under arrest was given the chance to change her statement, Refalo said anyone with more information should immediately contact the police commissioner.

He said he had full trust in the police officers and the superintendent at the Victoria police station, and they too could be trusted with any information.

As to whether people might be afraid to divulge sensitive information, Refalo said he could not understand why, since the police commissioner would definitely not go and tell any suspects who had been assisting the police.

Said revealed that following a speech of his in Parliament on 5 February about drugs and the police force in Gozo, two policemen were transferred to other posts.

Gozo minister Anton Refalo
Gozo minister Anton Refalo
“The two police officers were transferred because they were suspected of having passed me information,” he said.

Refalo said he did not know about these two transfers, and admitted it would be wrong for the two to have been transferred for political reasons.

“But we cannot also discount that the two officers were transferred because they were found to be able to better serve the corps doing other duties,” the minister said.

He acknowledged that, as a father himself, he was concerned with the problem of drug abuse and said it should be tackled without restraint.

As to the perception that Gozitan policemen working in Gozo were more amenable to turning a blind eye to certain cases, Refalo said that this was not the case. “Just becaue you’re a Gozitan policemen does that mean you have no integrity?” Said said he agreed with Refalo on the fact that Gozitan were just as capable of carrying out their job as those in Malta.

He said however, that Gozo was currently seeing an explosion in drug use and questioned whether this was because police were being given instructions not to “go into certain places.”

Healthcare

On Barts medical school - a project announced by the government that will see London-based university set up a campus in Gozo - Said said the initiative is in and of itself a good one however delay’s in meeting the established deadlines were raising serious questions.

“The first students were meant to start in September but they are nowhere to be seen,” he said, adding that the school was mean to have been built by Vitals Global Healthcare – the private operators of the Gozo general hospital among others – yet “not a stone has been placed.”

“Be careful, because I have been informed that from the entire course, only a short first part will be based in Gozo. They will move to Malta when they start their clinical work,” he said.

While the Barts initiative was a positive one, Said said the “privatisation” of the Gozo General Hospital was a different matter, as evidenced by the fact that hospital employees were asking for transfers and “escaping” the hospital. “Why would they be leaving if they were sure that the project was going to be a good one?”

Refalo replied by pointing out that an air ambulance between Malta and Gozo, “which was saving lives”, had been set up. Said however asked the minister to disclose how much the company was being paid for this service.

Gozo Ministry

Said also rejected claims that Nationalist Party would see the Gozo ministry removed, rather he said that what was being proposed was a regional council, with elected people from Gozo the role of which would be to help the minister in his duties.

Said said that he did not agree with the statement that the presence of minister for Gozo increased the likelihood of nepotism, and warned against “the stereotyping” of the ministry. He said that the existence of regional council would also provide the necessary checks and balances and would allow the creating of policy for Gozo.

Refalo said the suggestion was not a new one, and had been suggested by the Labour Party when Alfred Sant was leader, adding that he believed in giving Gozo more independence.

Finally, the minister said that studies were currently underway to determine the feasibility of a tunnel between Malta and Gozo and a tender would soon be issued for the design and operation of a tunnel between the islands.

“I don’t believe in having one tunnel. There needs to be a set of tunnels that can allow Gozitans to get to different parts of Malta because a connection to Cirkewwa only is not of much use,” said Refalo.

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Yannick joined MaltaToday as a journalist in 2016. His main areas of interest are politics...