Affording to live in today’s world

It is obvious that our current minimum wage structure is not fit for its intended purpose

File photo
File photo

Affording to live decently must never be a luxury. I am always perturbed at how in today’s Europe, where we boast of being one of the strongest global economies, with the highest investment in technology, research and development; our streets are full of people who cannot afford the basics of shelter and food.

In our streets in Malta, we might not usually see the carton boxes used by the homeless to sleep on (although with a closer look, you might get a glimpse of some), yet it is evident that a number of people are finding it difficult to make ends meet. Being employed and earning a salary might not necessarily mean that a person is living well, or at least decently. It is obvious that our current minimum wage structure is not fit for its intended purpose. Save for the yearly COLA adjustment, prior to 2017 we had no real increase in our national minimum wage. Our wages need to catch up with the ‘frozen’ decades.

During the past nine years, the Labour administration managed to financially elevate families on our islands. This is the main reason one finds the strongest support by citizens towards the party in government. Think of the pensioner who after years of receiving the same pension amount for years, suddenly had their pension increased every single year while also receiving a full cost-of-living-adjustment, unlike the partial one that used to be granted when the conservatives were in power. In addition to the increase, an additional annual cheque at home has made up for other increases in their expenses. By being proactive, the government ensured, as much as it could, that no one is left behind.

The world is currently experiencing the highest of inflations. The cost of COVID has been much greater than anyone could have predicted. The price of fuel, electricity and gas have skyrocketed due to the pandemic, exacerbated by the current tensions between Russia and the rest of the world.

Timely government intervention meant that Malta managed to push through this pandemic with the lowest possible negative impact on the economy. The unemployment numbers speak for themselves. The same can be said of our handling of the energy and fuel crisis hitting the world. Unlike our European counterparts, we are obsessed with stability in this market which has left positive results.

A progressive government that invests in people to stimulate the economy, rather than resort to austere measures, is leaving its mark. Our national policies have shielded citizens from exorbitant electricity and fuel prices being faced by millions of Europeans, and this is something to be proud of. Yet, while we may be an island geographically, we are part of the rest of the world and the increases in the cost of production and transportation are leaving their mark and can be felt by each and everyone of us.

Malta is on the road to recover from the pandemic and its after-shocks. Empowering families and in turn our small and medium businesses is our proven way to strengthen the economy. Malta has already done a lot to this effect in the past years and this must remain the government’s modus operandi.

It came as no surprise to see the Prime Minister and Finance Minister announce a new set of well-planned measures aimed at helping people in these difficult global times on Thursday. Measures which will not only empower families but boost our businesses even further towards reaching normality again.

While I applaud these measures and initiatives it is now time to add a permanent solution to the cost-of-living challenge. It is time to ensure that even without the seasonal injections to the economy, we can have a minimum wage structure and system that ascertains a basic and decent living to all those residing on our shores.

This is exactly why we need to move from a social Europe on paper to a social Europe in practice. It is exactly what families need to ensure they can continue to flourish, and it is what businesses need to continue grow. Living wages, higher than today’s minimum wage might seem as a little bit of a load on the industry at first, but in the long run they will lead to business growth, not only directly but also indirectly. We can never forget: a motivated workforce produces so much more.