Minimum wage and social justice | Rafel Grima

The gap between the haves and the have-nots in Malta is growing, and it has been exacerbated by the exponential increase in rental fees

The European Commission recently proposed setting minimum wage standards across the bloc. However, both Government and Opposition have agreed to oppose this move, ignoring debates and statistics about the minimum wage in Malta, which are certainly less than pleasant.

Given that Malta has the fourth worst rating when it comes to minimum wage as a percentage of median wage, our representatives should have every reason to support a gradual increase in minimum wage as an elementary act of social justice. Studies on the standard of living of people on low wages, such as those conducted by Caritas, have shown that the current minimum wage is far from adequate. An increase of up to 60% of the median wage would mean that the current minimum wage of around €780/month would rise to around €1050/month. The wealth that has been generated in Malta in recent years owes much to the hard work of Maltese and foreign workers working on or just above the minimum wage. We believe they deserve to be given the wages they deserve.

Raising the minimum wage in Malta would lead to a general increase in wages, especially in the lower-income brackets. This would have positive effects on a large number of workers, especially those in the hospitality and construction industry, whose wage packet is close to the minimum wage.

Higher wages would lead to more spending and this would in turn have a positive effect on small businesses. Parents who have been skipping meals will have more money to spend on food. People who need to repair their car or carry our renovation works at home will have the money to do so.

Moreover, not having to worry about whether they have enough money to survive till the end of the month will give people more peace of mind and increase productivity in the workplace.

‘Paga Minima Diċenti’, a campaign in favour of a decent minimum wage led by Moviment Graffitti, Caritas and Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, had suggested an increase of 11%, spread over three years (i.e. an increase of 3.5% per year), so as to ease the pressure on small businesses that employed people on a minimum wage. This is the approach being discussed in the United States, where a federal increase in the minimum wage is being proposed over a period of five years.

The government itself has acknowledged how low the national minimum wage is by providing a wage supplement of 800€, higher than the current minimum wage, because of the COVID-19 emergency. However, we are disappointed that the recently appointed Minister of Finance has ruled out any measures by the government to support this increase. The gap between the haves and the have nots in Malta is growing. This has been exacerbated by the exponential increase in rental fees.

What will happen to those who have been barely coping with the supplementary wage? Will they return to work on a similar wage, which has clearly not been enough for them to live a decent life? When prices in the rental fees return to normal, will the current wages be enough to cover the basic cost of living? We think not. Raising wages is vital both for those on the minimum wage and for the significantly larger number of workers working on low wages which are just above the current minimum wage.

Historically the reluctance to raise wages, not necessarily the minimum wage, has been connected to concerns about inflation, especially an increase in the price of goods. However, the prices of goods are not determined solely by the wage given to workers. Property prices have risen, but that doesn’t mean that all workers have been paid more; take, for example, workers in the construction industry. Often it is the sellers who determine prices, and how much they are going to make themselves. Increasing the minimum wage will help decrease the inequality that exists between those who are setting these prices and their workers.

Moviment Graffitti is making this proposal of an adequate minimum wage because we believe that every worker has a right to a fair wage and a decent quality of life.

Rafel Grima is a member of Moviment Graffitti