Result of a well thought-out strategy

Those unemployed who have been receiving social benefits improperly, will be required to regularise their position by next February. 

Since taking over the responsibility for education and employment, we have set out to educate the unemployed to help them obtain the employability skills to gain employment.

I am pleased to say that through these efforts, we have managed a noticeable degree of success. Most constituted bodies have welcomed the measures that this government has introduced and the steady healthy upward trend in the employment rate, with an increase of three per cent, is one of the highest in Europe. This has not just happened – it is the result of a well thought-out strategy which we have prioritised as early as our first budget.

We started by facilitating the return of mothers to the workplace through the introduction of free childcare and breakfast clubs for those families who have to go to work early. For those who need child minding until they return from work, we reduced the Klabb 3-16 hourly rate from €1.20 to 80c. Now there are over 1,000 mothers who regularly make use of these childcare services. Of these, 700 mothers are in employment and the rest are in training.

Well before the last election, we planned the Youth Guarantee and Malta is at the forefront of the implementation of this scheme. We have utilised the European Social Fund to strengthen this initiative and in the forthcoming year we will be in a position to finance 700 traineeships and 200 work trials.

The Employment Training Corporation has embarked on a serious restructuring exercise to be in a position to manage employability issues more efficiently. One major change will be in the way ‘matching’ of skills will be carried out in line with the requirement for particular jobs. We will now ensure that the jobs offered to individuals will not be simply the listing of a wish list, but that each individual will have the necessary skills that the job entails. One cannot register for work as an airline pilot or an astronaut without having the necessary skills set to meet the requirements of that particular job!

The ETC will formulate an employability index that will guide students to study choices with a strong potential of employment. An Occupational Handbook for students, teachers, employers and employees will provide a premier source of career guidance.

This Government has introduced a number of initiatives to tackle unemployment but this does not mean that we will overcome employability issues. We will study raising the school leaving age to ensure that tomorrow’s citizens are well equipped to meet the challenges of adulthood.

Next year we will be introducing several measures that were announced in the 2015 Budget speech. We will make work pay by strengthening the in-work benefit up to a maximum of €1,000 per child and we will be increasing single parent benefits to all those eligible for such benefits. We will also be giving a €150 incentive to parents whose children attend private schools to promote a greater use of public or school transport.

The Government has also taken a very bold step to curb social benefits abuse. Those unemployed who have been receiving social benefits improperly, will be required to regularise their position by next February.

Thereafter persons under the age of 23 applying for social assistance benefits, will be placed on the Youth Guarantee Scheme that will offer training or vocational education. Those persons who refuse to participate in this scheme will not be eligible for benefits.

However this step is not meant solely to police the new measures. The government has introduced incentives to encourage people to seek meaningful employment and to provide opportunities for low-income earners. We also realise that not all those registering for work are fit for work and we will study ways to differentiate between unemployment benefits and social benefits.

This Government believes in employment. We believe that jobs give dignity and I wish to end by quoting Pope Francis on this subject: “It is necessary to reaffirm that employment is necessary for society, for families and for individuals. Its primary value is the good of the human person, as it allows the individual to be fully realised as such, with his or her attitudes and intellectual, creative and manual capacities.

Therefore, it follows that work has not only the economic objective of profit, but above all a purpose that regards man and his dignity. And if there is no work, this dignity is wounded! Indeed, the unemployed and underemployed risk being relegated to the margins of society, becoming victims of social exclusion”.