It’s all about creating jobs

Malta has managed – very differently to countries abroad – to contain the effects of the worst recession since the last war.

One must commend the UHM initiative of the 'Jobs Plus' project, which presents a series of reforms in the job market, to create work. They have placed job creation just where it belongs foremost on the political agenda.

This initiative - backed up by the social partners and included in the three party's electoral programmes - includes concrete measures which should help to provide a basis for the 'jobs creation' programme of the new government.

The initiative is praiseworthy, not only because it concretises the way forward to job creation, but also - and this is no mean feat in our very divided country - because it got all the social partners (and especially the political parties) to agree, for the first time, to a plan of action.

There is little doubt that beyond and after all the electoral fanfare is over, the one important hurdle to be overcome is the creation of jobs. Over the next five years, there are no fewer than around 25,000 jobs which need to be created if the unemployment list is not to grow.

Creating all these new jobs in this very difficult economic climate would be a gargantuan task. To date, Malta has managed - very differently to countries abroad - to contain the effects of the worst recession since the last war.

Other countries have reduced social benefits and cut their health and educational budgets creating a strain on the living standards of the majority of the people, resulting in numerous street protests, strikes and unruly social behaviour.

Not so in Malta where to date, no budgets have been reduced - rather, there were increases in the education and health sectors, which are however still to be approved, soon after the election and once parliament is summoned.

The new government will need to create jobs and will also be judged on the results it achieves in this area.

Many of the structures included in the Jobs Plus project - in particular the action committee and time frames for it to be set up - could help the new government hit the ground running as regards job creation. The targets for the new committee - including how to increase the gainfully occupied, the training programmes and the investment funds - should help create the necessary infrastructure for the challenge to be taken up, in this worsening global economic climate. The project seems to have been very well thought through, as it encompasses all sections of society: including young the persons with special needs, those on social benefits and pensioners. Around all these categories a wide and preferential system of tax benefits have been concocted, which should encourage people to join the workforce.

Women are given particular importance, with a wide-reaching child care system being set up to benefit both full time part time and flexible time workers backed in the PN programme with a €5 million commitment to encourage more women into the work place so as to improve our European league position in this regard. The benefit is also included to include single-parent families, including male single parent families.

There is also included in the programme a widening of the sick leave benefit, allowing a parent to claim sick leave even in the case of sickness of one of his or her children. This progressive measure is taking into account modern realities whereby the sickness of a child often forces the parent to be unable to hold down a job.

Beyond all these promises, the parties need to concretise their thinking by actually making known how these jobs will - concretely - be created. For example, an ambitious 25,000 in the PN manifesto is promised. In which sectors are work opportunities to be created?

Childcare centres will create work but certainly not in the numbers we need to fend off growing unemployment. In reality, work opportunities are linked to new economic initiatives backed by new foreign investment and increased tourism and foreign exports. These all require buoyant growth in the markets of our European trading partners, where presently, growth is at best stagnant. The growing euro crisis is also likely to make the job creation programme more difficult to achieve.

Accordingly, if job creation is to be one of the deciding factors which can influence the election result, it is imperative that all the parties concentrate their minds and make known in the remaining few days, the fine details of their job creation project.

More childcare centres and cutting beaucracy may help, but they certainly do not go far enough. We would need to know more about the how and where of all the political parties with regards to job creation projects.

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