In a bit of a shambles

The changes weren’t secret. I’ve answered many parliamentary questions detailing everything and we have explained the changes numerous times

Changes to the Community Works Scheme  have ensured that the scheme is not operating below legal conditions
Changes to the Community Works Scheme have ensured that the scheme is not operating below legal conditions

Each and every worker in Malta goes to their place of work every day in the knowledge that there is a basic social net which protects him and her, and that this is written in law.

This includes the least amount of remuneration for an hour’s work, sick leave, holiday leave, health aid should he or she injure themselves on the job and protection against unfair dismissal. These are rights which each one of us enjoy, but when I was appointed Employment Minister it quickly became clear that, through the Community Work Scheme, the government itself was not living up to the commitment against precarious conditions.

The Community Work Scheme was a well-meaning initiative, introduced in 2009, which helped the long-term unemployed get work experience. The idea, and this is a very positive concept, was to turn inactive people into active workers. The ones who were serious about working joined in and did well, working across the public sector and NGOs among others.

We had to act. During this legislature, we introduced reforms elevating workers in the Community Work Scheme because basic standards dictate you could not have a public employment scheme operating below legal conditions. Despite the well-placed faith of the previous government, it was clear that the working conditions of these individuals were not within the law. If they got sick, there was nothing to protect them. If they were injured, there was nothing to protect them either. If they wanted to take holiday leave, there was none. They didn’t even have the minimum wage rate.

We could have created a political hullaballoo about all this, and accused the previous administration of illegal and precarious employment. But we didn’t. We got on with fixing things. We elevated their hourly rate to meet the minimum wage and provided them with full working conditions. This includes sick leave and holiday leave – the same rights as enjoyed by everyone else in this country. We didn’t make a huge fuss. We just put things right.

Under the previous administration, there were countless reports of abuse within the scheme, mostly workers skiving. A public-private partnership, similar to countless others, was devised for the deployment, management and training of the workers. The supplier would be responsible for the operation. A tender was issued, bids were submitted and the GWU won this contract. Some people seem to be unhappy that this happened, but in reality unions have placed bids for public contracts for a long time and there is no rule to exclude them. Is Simon Busuttil proposing banning this practice if elected? I have no idea and you won’t either, because, in reality, they are only after a shouting match, not serious politics. It’s truly a case of empty vessels make most noise.

The changes weren’t secret. I’ve answered many parliamentary questions detailing everything and we have explained the changes numerous times. Full documentation was provided in answer to all Freedom of Information requests. I’m not even sure if the Opposition knows what it wants to say, or even can. The storyline is farcical. The Nationalist Party launches a well-meaning but half-baked precarious measure in 2009 and PN ministers fell over themselves to call it a success, despite the obvious shortcomings; we fix the huge flaws and bring it up to the legal standard and they criticise our improvements.

Sometimes life is stranger than fiction. On page 15 of the 2013 electoral manifesto of the Nationalist Party, which Simon Busuttil played a big part in producing, there’s written the Community Work Scheme would be retained, but gave no commitments about pay increases (to at least be within the law) or better conditions. Shamelessly, he was promoting a below-minimum-wage scheme in the electoral manifesto he wrote. He is, as they say, in a bit of a shambles.

Simon Busuttil may think that attacking everything, without logic and or any sense of reality or context, makes him look tough in front of his grassroots.

What it does make him look is politically flawed, at least among the level-headed. Ultimately a leader needs to offer credibility and solid policies. A good place for Simon Busuttil to start would be to acquire some.

Evarist Bartolo is Minister of Education and Employment

More in Blogs