The rental hike is a result of our own success. We need a solution

We need a more sustainable model where the supply is increased yet it is within an environmentally-conscious framework with rigorous standards tied with the well-being of the community and the quality of life of the immediate vicinity

A report by the Italian agency IREF published over the past few days highlights the precarious situation for young Italians in their labour market.

The report indicates that people under the age of 30 have become ‘natives’ of precarious employment. They know nothing else other than jobs with limited rights, no holidays, zero-hour contracts and other elements that contribute to a precarious job. The report states that “these young people have grown to accept these conditions and that finding a job will always be a problem”.

The findings say that this isn’t just about low-skilled jobs, but also very present at the professional level. These employees, in order to retain their hard-earned job, are ready to sacrifice important and established employment rights. They have come to acknowledge a situation where they cover up such shortcomings, which are often illegal, because they know a limited and illegal job still pays more than nothing. The study finds that 12% are even ready to turn a blind eye to unpaid salaries as long as they keep the job. One in ten are ready to forego sick leave allowances in order to remain employed.

This has led to a situation where, during 2017 alone, 125,000 people left Italy for better luck elsewhere. Most of them are young people with relatively high skill-sets. This means that the problem is further amplified, because of the huge brain drain. In business hubs from London to San Francisco, young Italians have made a name for themselves as hard-working and smart workers.

A small percentage of that number have also chosen Malta as their destination. Malta has created far more jobs than it is able to supply from local labour market. You might see its presence in sectors such as catering, but it is also present in other important sectors such as iGaming, finance, manufacturing, engineering and tech.

The situation is very different for young people in Malta. Our economic growth has led to a situation where the demand for jobs easily caters for the supply. Of course, there are challenges — underemployment and a skills gap chief among them. The growth rate has also led to an increase in the demand for housing, which in turn has increased the price index for accommodation. This is certainly no small issue. However, this is the result of our own success, and has also meant that middle-class property owners have seen their home values increase. It’s a challenge that the Government is working on so as to propose new policies. But ultimately, this was due to the influx of workers due to our economic output, an economic output which is creating a lot of demand for jobs, from low-skilled ones to very technical, specific and high-level ones.

We must find solutions through smart policies as well as sustainable development. Building soulless and undignified housing very quickly is not the right solution in my view. We need a more sustainable model where the supply is increased yet it is within an environmentally-conscious framework with rigorous standards tied with the well-being of the community and the quality of life of the immediate vicinity.

Are these all massive challenges? Yes, they are. The rental market price increases and influx of workers are putting a strain on infrastructure. But they’re also the results of our own success. The alternative is to have stable or cheaper accommodation, because nobody wants to come to Malta due to lack of jobs. Young Maltese people would end up doing what our neighbours are facing, and jump ship.

Let’s work together to build cohesive solutions to these challenges. Whether this country becomes one that we’re proud of is solely tied to how we respond, as one, to these issues.

Evarist Bartolo is minister for education and employment

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