Happy holidays and no kissing under the mistletoe

To move away from the mistletoe and onto the all-important turkey, perhaps the big word for 2022 is going to be “inflation” and how this is about to eat into our purchasing power and cost of living

Perhaps, reporting on the European Commission’s internal proposal to use ‘Happy Holidays’ instead of ‘Happy Christmas’, a sort of politically correct alternative for eurocrats not to presume that their interlocutors might be partial towards Christianity and eggnog, goes to show how starved the press can be of Christmas inanities. 

It looks like European Commissioner Helena Dalli has had to eat some humble yule log... mercilessly after a right-wing outrage over her internal guidelines to tone down on the Christmas merriment. I saw it as a futile exercise in PC-talk. Who cares if someone bids the other a ‘Merry Xmas’ in their email... does anyone really think a salutation of good will could ever be ‘poltically incorrect’? 

I wonder why a Europe often accused of being distant from its citizens, could undertake an unnecessary initiative like this. 

Personally, even though I am far from being religious, I refused to dump ‘Christmas’ from my vocab. Language and traditions are an important part of anybody’s culture. Follies like these raise people’s danders and plays into the hands of dangerous, identitarian idiots on the far right. It also serves to undermine the otherwise sterling work done by Brussels on equality and respect for human rights: keep the policy-making on attacking unfairness and inequality, not trying to regimentalise the way people (albeit Commission officials only) speak. 

Now, to move away from the mistletoe and onto the all-important turkey, perhaps the big word for 2022 is going to be “inflation” and how this is about to eat into our purchasing power and cost of living. 

Fuelled by a very dramatic rise in the cost for distributing goods in Malta and shipping abroad, the world is experiencing a return to high levels of demand for consumer goods, but with no supply to match that demand. We went from low consumption under COVID lockdowns, to a desire to get back to normal. Only that a massive stock of containers lies idle in ports, and the cost of shipping stuff from the Far East has risen massively. Those costs are being absorbed by industry, but wait for it, they are about to be passed on to consumers. 

It may sound all technical, but I know that everybody at the business end of life knows what I am talking about. And whether you are now buying things online or at the supermarket, they cold be appeals from Trieste or an Irish rib-eye, consumer goods’ costs have exploded. 

Now I will add another ingredient to this disastrous recipe: the labour shortage. 

Everybody remembers what happened during the COVID lockdown. Thousands of foreign workers, a good deal of them irregularly employed, and many of them suiting employers’ demands for competitive wages, went back home. Businesses responding to the COVID challenge had to cut costs too, so natural wastage set in; surplus workers were no longer required; projects were cut back to reduce unnecessary labour costs. 

Now that acute labour shortage is biting back. From cleaners to drivers, teachers to builders, waiters to accountants, businesses are struggling to find employees at rates that respect economic realities. And if you cannot find those employees, then you cannot carry out your projects... that means a worrying decrease in output. 

When COVID struck, many of the foreign workers who left had been in Malta without a bona fide permit and working under the radar. Those with a permit stayed here and benefited from the COVID supplementary wage. Now vaccination protocols here and abroad is blocking this ‘natural’ course of undeclared labour. More red tape on visas only aggravates the labour shortage. 

For small and medium-sized enterprises who had to hang on to their employees even by raising their salaries to pre-COVID nomrality, this has meant a rise in cost of their products and services. But that also reduces their ability to spen more, and invest more. 

And this great problem has to be tackled, whether we like it or not. The big decisions might not even happen before a general election – and it appears that this election will not be happening before Easter. 

But we need to take big decisions, and Robert Abela will need to take the hard decisions that will steer this country on the best track – the one that benefits future generations. 


A third consideration: the crisis in education. The lack of foresight in our educators and our education system to look into the future and cater for a changing world; and the inability of employers to take into consideration the narrowing gender gap that is thrusting more women into the labour world. 

A fourth concern is the direction of our economy. If we really want Malta to have value-added it needs to revisit its financial services and gaming industry and the new economy. New investment that is high-end must be attracted to Malta while focusing on exiting the FATF greylist. These new industies must leave big dividends for Malta, without a great social and environmental impact. 

The alternative would be turning to the construction industry... to continue with its short-sightedness and high environmental cost and impact on national infrastruture. 

If we want to retain our high standard of living, rising salaries and the highest of aspirations for our children in a greener world, we do need to think out of the box. And for an over-populated microstate, that will require some blue-sky thinking.