Bringing workers’ rights into the future | Cyrus Engerer

As the world has increasingly changed, and technological advances have adapted the way that we view labour, and in effect the labourer, we find ourselves as workers no longer having to face the struggles of the past.

Today is workers’ day, and for true socialists, it is a prized international commemorative day.

It is a day to remember the hardship of our ancestors, their struggle, and our collective, continued fight against exploitation, slavery and disrespect to the dignity of the worker.

As the world has increasingly changed, and technological advances have adapted the way that we view labour, and in effect the labourer, we find ourselves as workers no longer having to face the struggles of the past.

But the fact of the matter remains, that regardless of the great strides that we have made in the past, as workers we are always at risk of being treated unequally. Even in today’s modern world, with strong local and EU-based laws which govern the standards of which our countries must view workers’ rights, we still find modern day slavery and exploitation within our midst. Even in our most advanced societies. And this is what we should truly be thinking of today. 

The Socialist manifesto: how Labour plans to introduce a culture of collectivism

Throughout the collective workers struggle, one thing has always been clear: workers have always needed to band together and unite to create the necessary reforms to better our environments and strengthen our rights. Our struggle has never been won individually – but always collectively. 

And this is why when it comes to safeguarding our rights as workers, and making sure that each and everyone of us is brought forward, empowered and not left behind, one of the most imperative aspects will always be to create a culture of collectivism, and not individualism.

During the advances over the years, and the rise of inevitable neo-liberalisation, we have seen a bit of a generalised shift towards narratives which favour individualism. In the General Elections, the Partit Nazzjonalista manifesto strongly reflected this, with much of their proposals aiming to empower the individual, and not the collective. And this mentality is not just quite selfish, it is harmful.

By aiming to empower the individual and not the collective, anti-workers’ rights forces often effectively remove power from the hands of the workers and replace it with basic rewards granted on the basis of compliance. And granting workers their basic rights and dignities in exchange for not challenging the status quo, is something that should never aspire for in today’s modern societies.

I strongly believe that Prime Minister Robert Abela and his team have understood this. Indeed, it is no secret that Abela handpicked some of the most socialist and leftist of the Labour Party’s advisors to pen our manifesto.

The good worker is a happy worker

During the next five years, Abela will be embarking on a journey where he will be expected to bring that manifesto and those proposals to life. One such proposal is the introduction of mandatory unionisation, a proposal which I, as a socialist, feel adamantly strongly about. Before delving further, let’s not fall for the opposition’s spin on this. 

For most of my life, I have been a worker. My father made sure of this because after being a worker himself cooking in various restaurants and hotels, while my mum worked as a chambermaid in one of the hotels in St. Julian’s, they ventured into opening their own small catering businesses. Yet they knew that one of the most important things that their children could learn was the value of hard work.

If you have met me in my youth, you most likely remember me spending long days in the sun serving your food and drinks at Exiles. Although of a young age, I fully began to understand the necessity for basic rights like mandatory break times, sick leave rights and health and safety at the workplace. 

Past my youth, I educated myself and branched my employment out of catering and into civil service, EU funding and political advisory. One realises that the basic rights granted to me as catering staff are as important in an office as they are in a kitchen.

Time and experience brought changes. Today, together with my siblings, I help in the management of the catering staff of the family business, while also employing a cabinet of staff in my offices in Brussels and Malta as part of my mandate as a Member of the European Parliament.

And it is this life journey, as both a worker and an employer, which has helped me understand how important it is to have stronger workers’ rights – because strong workers’ rights, mean employees who feel secure, looked after, safe and above all content. And there is no better recipe to high productivity and high success, then through a worker who is happy to be doing their job. 

Facing the future of work

But let us not be too idealistic, as that can often be socialism’s downfall. The face of work is changing, and thus as a reaction, what we are all expecting from work is different. Technological advances have entirely changed certain industries, with work often becoming easier due to the fourth industrial revolution we find ourselves in, defined by interconnectivity and automation. 

This allows for huge opportunities for workers’ growth, development and the furthering of careers, however, at the same time we need to be realistic and recognise that much of these developments also come with great risks. And these new risks need to be understood and combatted in order to guarantee our workers their rights. 

First and foremost, what is abundantly clear is that we must protect workers from the risk of being replaced by automation. The European Commission estimates that by 2030, 45% to 60% of all workers across the European Union could be replaced by automation and artificial intelligence, and this is very worrying if we do not collectively take action.

The good news is that the Commission also estimates that 96% of workers who are currently at threat from technology could find similar or better work with adequate training, proving that the only way forward for all of us collectively: is by investing in a more circular economy. This is why unions play such an integral part of the future of work, and why unionisation is so imperative to all of us. As it is unions that fight and very often guarantee the circularity of our economies. 

The introduction of the fourth wave worker 

With the fourth industrial revolution upon us, we need to be redefining our approach to industry. We need to make sure that when we speak about workers’ rights, we are talking about applicable rights that make sense in today’s day and age. We no longer speak about slavery, because we have abolished it from a legislative aspect.

Slavery in fact is hardly a feature in today’s industrial relations – because legal rights and norms protect us from being viewed as the property of others. But exploitation is. Thus we need to ensure that our targeted efforts to better the rights of the fourth wave worker is relative to the challenges of the fourth industrial revolution. Aspects that we never thought about before, such as the right to data protection, workers’ privacy, or platform workers’ rights, must become the norm in order to ensure real dignity and respect at the workplace. 

A fair and just society empowers its workers

I am a socialist, and I believe strongly in Partit Laburista specifically because of all of the aspects mentioned above, and overall because I believe that the only way to create a true holistic approach to a fair, equal and just society, is by first and foremost empowering our workforce.

To be realistic again, it is an acknowledged fact that in Malta, we live in economic abundance. Employment rates are down and morale is high. Thus, to me, it is now more than ever that we must focus on protecting those within society who may be left behind. History across the globe has shown us clearly that economic growth will always create a large economic divide. It is a fact that has been tried and tested, and is inevitable.

But this doesn’t mean that this has to be the status quo. I truly believe that more investment in economic growth should by nature mean more investment in protecting the most vulnerable in our society, because we can afford it. 

Because when one lives in abundance, it should only be natural to us Maltese to assist those who do not. This is the nature of our collective personality as Maltese and Gozitan citizens, and I believe that Prime Minister Abela has embraced this. 

This is why on Workers Day this year, I look forward to watching Abela embark on his journey into the next five years. Because from where I am standing, it looks clear to me that by empowering those at the bottom of the ladder in the midst of economic growth, Abela will be captaining a ship which pays homage to its past and roots, by sailing into the future.