On the altar of greed not everyone’s belly and pockets are full

Economic growth is a major goal of this government but who is actually benefiting from this growth? And how does our economy grow?

File photo
File photo

We are constantly bombarded by the mantra that Malta has a strong and ever-growing economy.  For the government, this is a source of pride and joy. As if having a strong, growing economy means that everyone’s belly and pockets are full and that we are living in some heaven on earth. Had this been the case, the government would really have something to boast about.

However, the facts give a very different picture. They suggest that our economy is based on worker exploitation, greed, injustice, environmental destruction and a decline in people’s quality of life. When created wealth is not divided in a just way, it is only the few who benefit from economic growth while the gap between those with phenomenal incomes and those working for peanuts continues to widen.

Economic growth is a major goal of this government but who is actually benefiting from this growth? And how does our economy grow? The government embraces a neo-liberal economic model based on a free market philosophy, an individualist model which does not prioritise workers but rather the wealthy who are willing to invest their wealth to generate more wealth. This model puts economic growth for its own sake as the ultimate goal with the consequence that many foreign workers were lured to work in Malta, generally in bad working conditions, especially in construction, hospitality and other services. According to Jobsplus statistics, the Maltese labour market is very volatile, with a large turnover of workers and a higher rate of workers leaving employment rather than being recruited. 

Following the pandemic, Malta experienced a wave of inflation like other countries. Although the government partially compensated for this, the measures were not enough for workers on low income to cope with the cost of living. In real terms, workers did not have more spending money in their pockets, especially those with low incomes. European Commission estimates show that during 2023, in Malta, the nominal increase in wages was only of 1.5%, the lowest in Europe, apart from the fact that the hike in the cost of living rendered any increase in wages practically ineffective.

Those who do the shopping know how much more they now have to pay for essential goods. Those who do not go shopping may read official reports which show that despite the increase in wages, workers could not cope with the cost of living, especially when one take into consideration that it is the cost of food items that increased the most. 

Besides budget measures to compensate for the rising cost of living, towards the end of last year, the government increased the minimum wage by 20c an hour with increments of up to 45c by 2027. While, positive, this measure did not adequately address the unjust low wages of many workers. If one looks at other countries in the European Union, one finds that Malta occupies the 12th place in this regard. Comparing the minimum wage in Malta with that of other countries, one notes that the income of those earning a minimum wage in Malta is still quite low. Even in countries like Cyprus, Portugal, Poland and Slovenia, workers earn a higher minimum wage than their counterparts in Malta.

Although workers on a minimum wage are not in their thousands, Maltese wages are not generally high, apart from the fact that there are many workers who earn slightly more than the minimum. A recent study has revealed that many Maltese youngsters, including University graduates, prefer to work abroad than in Malta on a low wage, which means losing educated and trained workers in whom we would have invested.  

Low income is not the only problem of an economy which puts the market on a pedestal while seeking to milk workers. Worker exploitation, precarious employment and the uncertainty it brings with it, the excessively high rents, the lack of safety in the workplace all eat away at workers’ dignity as well as lead to accidents which may prove fatal. There are workers who have to work long hours or to take on a part-time job to make ends meet to the detriment of their health and personal life. Many foreign workers are constrained to share an apartment with others to afford rent. Furthermore, in Malta there are many workers, especially those on low wages and in precarious jobs, who are not unionised, making it impossible for them to negotiate better working conditions. 

We live in a country where the dignity of workers and quality of life are sacrificed on the altar of greed. The construction industry has exploded, an industry that not only disrespects workers and residents, but which is taking up every patch of land in this country, for the benefit of developers. Although construction is not the largest motor behind economic growth, together with other sectors like cleaning and food delivery, it employs many workers, both Maltese and not, in bad and precarious conditions. 

Economic growth for its own sake is not a positive thing except for those who prioritise the market and profits, over social justice, worker dignity and the quality of life of all and not just of the few who are pigging out on this growth which is so close to our so called socialist government’s heart. 

We need a different economic model, built on social justice, worker dignity and employment stability; wages that enable workers to have a decent life, serious regulation of the rent market and a labour market where workers have a say in decisions affecting their life so that we will truly have an economy worth boasting about.