Struggling minimum wage earners: GWU proposes additional allowances

General Workers Union suggests vacant properties could be used by government for social housing • Proposes introduction of medical leave for people undergoing cancer treatment

GWU secretary-general Josef Bugeja (third from left) launches pre-Budget proposals
GWU secretary-general Josef Bugeja (third from left) launches pre-Budget proposals

The General Workers Union (GWU) – wary of the ripple effect on the entire wage structure that an increase in the minimum wage would have – is proposing the introduction of an additional allowance for those on low income instead of a blanket increase in the minimum wage.

In preparation for Budget 2017, the GWU this morning held a press conference during which they put forward their own proposals.

Responding to questions put to him by MaltaToday, secretary general Josef Bugeja said that an increase in the minimum wage would affect all wage strata and would have adverse effects on many collective agreements.

"This is why we are proposing the temporary introduction of an allowance for minimum wage earners while a study is undertaken on the living wage and any adjustments that must be made to the system," Bugeja said.

The GWU, Bugeja added, will not submit any proposals to deal with the disparity in wages and the ever-increasing cost of property: “We are instead proposing that greater subsidies be introduced to cover the rent for low-income earners, since rent prices were increasing due to high demand by foreigners.”

The union also called on the government to enter into private public agreements with owners of empty properties, so that such properties could be upgraded and rented out by government as social housing.

Bugeja said the union recognised that a section of the population was still facing considerable social difficulties and was calling on government to ensure that sufficient resources were allocated to alleviate the financial burdens of the most vulnerable.

Government should, for example, revise the criteria through which people were assessed to determine whether they qualified for disability benefits.

It should also revise and increase the means testing used to establish social benefits.

Medical leave for people undergoing cancer treatment

Bugeja said the union was proposing that the concept of medical leave be introduced for the benefit of people undergoing cancer treatment and who would utilise the new leave system for follow-up appointments after finished the main treatment.

“We are also proposing that, in the case of these people, their house mortgage repayments be frozen while they undergo treatment, in order to alleviate their financial burden,” he said.

With regards to pensions, the union was of the opinion that all contributory pensions be raised equally across the board, from the lowest pension to the highest.

“The union believes it is high time that the maximum pension be raised to be more in tune with today’s reality, especially since this has never been revised since 1979,” Bugeja said.

He said the government should also introduce measures to ensure that everyone receive the same cost of living increase, irrespective of when they start registering for a pension, and that pensions for persons born before 1961 start being calculated on the last 20 years of employment, instead of 40.

As to employment, Bugeja said the union was proposing that workers employed through an agency or contractor start enjoying the same conditions of work as those employees employed directly by the company.

“We believe the government should reinstate workers’ benefits for public holidays that fall on weekends, even if such benefits are reinstated gradually,” he said.

Government should also increase the number of hours of urgent family leave in the case of single parents or carers looking after disabled persons or elderly parents.

Bugeja said the criteria used to calculate the retail price index, and the cost of living, should be revised regularly to cater for any movement in pricing.

“We are calling on government to increase the enforcement of legislation to protect Gozo’s agricultural and maritime heritage and to harness the development on Gozo’s coast,” he said.

More in Budget 2017