[WATCH] Busuttil pledges to increase minimum wage, PL accuses him of flip-flopping

PN leader Simon Busuttil pledges to raise minimum wage by 3.5% every year over three years • Labour accuses him of flip-flopping for the sake of convenience

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has pledged to increase national minimum wage
Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has pledged to increase national minimum wage
PL releases video showing Simon Busuttil's U-turn on minimum wage

Opposition leader Simon Busuttil has given a firm declaration that he will raise the minimum wage if he is elected to power, accusing Joseph Muscat of turning back on his previous calls to raise wages in a climate of economic prosperity.

However, the Labour Party accused him of flip-flopping and of trying to jump on the bandwagon of a coalition of NGOs who recently said that the minimum wage should increase by 3.5% for three consecutive years – to between €11,000 and €12,000 annually.

“Yes, it is time for this economy to be an economy for the people. The increase in minimum wage should take place. Our minimum wage is half that of Germany’s… at €4.20 an hour, is increasing it by 3.5% annually over three years such an exaggeration? If the economy is so strong now, then it is the right time to do it,” Busuttil said on TVM’s Dissett.

Busuttil said he understood employers might not be enthusiastic about paying higher wages. “But if we really have a social conscience, it is time to raise minimum wages. Muscat has been waxing about the living wage since 2010, and instead, real wages have decreased under Muscat… he should walk the talk and stop bluffing on wages.”

However, the Labour Party released a video of a recent press conference, in which Busuttil was quizzed about Caritas’ call to increase the minimum wage during a study on household budgets.

“Instead of simply increasing the minimum wage from X to Y, we believe that people on the minimum wage should be trained so that they will be able to find a higher-paying job,” the PN leader said back then.

“Busuttil’s statement proves his inconsistency and that he only speaks out of convenience,” the PL said, noting that he hadn’t brought the topic up in his recent reaction to the Budget.

“In contrast, the government has increased financial aid to people on the minimum wage, while [deputy prime minister] Louis Grech will sit down with stakeholders to discuss whether the minimum wage should increase

Earlier this year, PN deputy leader Mario de Marco called for an increase in workers’ salaries, but without increasing the minimum wage.

The government’s position on the minimum wage has also softened in recent months. As Opposition leader in 2012, Joseph Muscat had said that raising the minimum wage would be irresponsible, but is now calling for a debate on whether it should be increased. Finance minister Edward Scicluna said in May this year that the government doesn’t want to burden the private sector and that the minimum wage will only be increased if trade unions and employers’ associations reach a consensus.

“Nobody is stopping employers from paying their staff higher wages than the minimum wage, and indeed employers will pay higher salaries to competent employees,” he said.  

LNG plant ‘unnecessary’

During his interview on Dissett, Simon Busuttil also pledged to give priority to social housing under a PN administration, and acquire housing from the private sector. “My social conscience is not built on giving money away on Café Premier, Gaffarena, or SOCAR…”

And he said the government should also repeal the excise hike on consumer goods, and questioned the social purpose of raising excise on consumer goods used by low-income earners. “The second you get in the shower, Muscat is taxing you,” Busuttil said referring to increased excise on toiletries.

Busuttil was most bullish on the Labour government’s energy plans, saying there was no need for the LNG plant that formed a key plank of Muscat’s electoral bid. “We don’t need it for our energy demand, or to reduce emissions because the interconnector has zero emissions, or to reduce energy prices,” he said, citing the climate of low oil prices.

“As we are today, we  can keep the gas plant switched off for a number of years,” He said. “It doesn’t mean we have to switch to gas. This was part of [the Nationalist] plan… we also agreed with the gas pipeline. But we question the necessity of building the gas plant.”

He accused Muscat of lying about savings on energy when the Prime Minister said Enemalta was not procuring oil.

Busuttil was also challenged about his claims that Muscat should reduce energy prices further in a climate of low oil prices, when TVM head of news Reno Bugeja asked him why he did not promise to reduce prices back in 2013 as author of the PN’s electoral manifesto.

“Simple, the price of oil was $120 a barrel. Could have someone promised something like that with responsibility? Now that oil is at $54, Muscat does not want to reduce the price of electricity. I have been consistent if anything.”

It also turned out that the PN’s alleged ‘report’ on the cost of energy generated by the forthcoming gas plant, was a set of workings based on government statistics. “No there is no study, there is a figure, workings based on official data,” Busuttil said. “Using statistics on energy generation issued by the government, we calculated how much the price of energy from the interconnector could have cost using the gas plant instead: we would end up paying €40 million more.”

Busuttil said he would give projections on energy prices under his administration once the election comes around. “I will buy electricity from the cheapest source, and it is cheaper by half from the interconnector. Today we are buying over two-thirds of our energy demand from the interconnector.”

The PN leader said the party was studying the safety reports on the LNG tanker, before taking a position on the berthing of the ship. “If we find an unacceptable risk, I am ready to bind myself to remove the LNG tanker out from Marsaxlokk.”

Busuttil said that a civil protection report on the safety of the LNG tanker, which deals with the prospect of an evacuation of the surrounding villages, was not published in the reports issued for public consultation. “The Seveso Directive makes it clear that the safety report must be published… the public must know the safety procedures it must take in case of an incident.”

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