Wages are paid in money, not words

Neither Labour nor the PN has actually committed itself to any specific wage increases, so far in the 2022 General Election campaign

File photo
File photo

If workers’ salaries were paid out in words, instead of money, there would be no doubt about it whatsoever: Malta would boast the highest minimum wage in the European Union (if not the entire world).

With an election just a week away, both main parties have now published their electoral manifestos. And as expected, both these voluminous publications – each running into hundreds of pages – are replete with what Hamlet once described as: ‘words, words, words’.

Many of these words are indeed about ‘improving local salaries’, ‘addressing precarious employment’, and other issues directly relating to working conditions. And on paper, they look commendable enough.

But neither Labour nor the PN has actually committed itself to any specific wage increases, so far. And as Moviment Graffitti’s Andre Callus aptly pointed out in recent weeks: this is doubly anomalous, given that Malta has registered a sustained period of mammoth economic growth, in recent years; and yet – despite all this newfound prosperity – is still home to tens of thousands of workers, who are somehow eking out a living on just a few hundred euros a month.

Faced with this reality, the two political parties owe the country more than just a series of well-meaning (but ultimately ineffectual) empty promises. And they clearly know this, too: judging by how much of their respective electoral manifestos, are in fact directed specifically at low-income earners.

But it is painfully clear that both parties are still wary of any commitment which would increase expenses for businesses; but which would make work pay for a neglected category of workers.

While Labour is now committed to raise the minimum wage over and above COLA increases, the PN is committed to reward companies paying a living wage – the amount of money required by a family to live a decent life – with fiscal incentives in line with (as yet undefined) ESG criteria.

Both these promises are at best vague; and at worst, unrealistic. The Labour Party, for instance, has pledged an upward revision of the national minimum wage; but without specifying by how much it will increase, or even within what timeframes.

Nonetheless, it remains more practical that the PN’s approach: which was to propose a ‘living income’ which places the financial onus squarely on the private sector – unwittingly, raising questions about discrimination against public sector employees – while stopping short of defining the mechanism whereby such a wage would even be calculated in the first place.

To be fair, the PN is also committed to paying a full “minimum wage” to all those who lose their jobs for the period of a year; while both parties are now (rightly) committed to outlawing zero-hour contracts.

But all this still seems to missing the wood for the trees. The PN, for instance, is promising tax credits for lower earners, starting from 10% credit for those who earn less than €20,000, and a massive 10-point tax band cut from 35% to 25% for higher earners €60,000-€80,000.