‘Don’t manage Malta like a private company,’ UHM boss urges government

Union Haddiema Maghqudin CEO Josef Vella said Malta’s economy should stop being profit-driven and had to instead address the needs of Maltese families

Union Haddiema Maghqudin CEO Josef Vella was addressing activists at a conference on Workers' Day
Union Haddiema Maghqudin CEO Josef Vella was addressing activists at a conference on Workers' Day

Union Haddiema Maghqudin’s boss has underlined the need for Malta’s economy to prioritise serving the needs of Maltese families, rather than looking only at monetary gain.

UHM CEO Josef Vella said that while his union considered it positive that the country had recorded another surplus in 2018, the reality for some families in Malta did not reflect this economic situation.

“Let us not reduce the country to a private company, where the shareholders are solely interested in profit. Even within companies, social-corporate responsibility is taken into account,” Vella said.

Vella, who was addressing delegates at a UHM Workers’ Day Conference on Friday, spoke about several challenges facing Malta, including those related to construction and pensions.

PA should be renamed Permits Authority

Vella lambasted the government for having reduced the Planning Authority to a “permit-issuing factory", saying that in the heavy development climate, it should have been renamed the “Permits Authority”.

Calling the accident in Guardamangia on Thursday - which saw a block of flats collapse onto the street – a “disaster”, Vella said it was shameful how Home Affairs Minister Michael Farrugia had not immediately offered social housing to the families who ended up without a roof on their heads.

UHM boss Josef Vella called the collapse of an apartment block in Guardamangia a 'disaster'
UHM boss Josef Vella called the collapse of an apartment block in Guardamangia a 'disaster'

“The minister said he would first inquire whether the people concerned had alternative housing before deciding on where to send them to stay. The first thing which should have be done, I would have expected, is to offer emergency social housing to the victims. Is it possible there aren’t three flats which are kept in reserve for this?” Vella asked

“And how can you tell those people who lost their home that all necessary building procedures were being followed. Is this the way we will treat these people – so shallowly? Let us be more empathetic with them,” he appealed.

He said it was evident that health and safety wasn’t in Maltese people’s blood and laws in this regard were little more than “words on paper.”

“If you consider accidents on the work place, it becomes apparent that many of them could have been avoided had a proper health and safety assessment been carried out,” he highlighted.

After taking everything from pensioners, government now wants their homes

Vella said the government was obliged to ensure elderly people of the future have pensions which are adequate, as he conceded that no political party had to date addressed the issue of pensions sustainability.

Turning to the recently announced equity release scheme – through which elderly persons can liquidate up to 60% of their property's value while keeping their home - Vella remarked that the creation of such a policy proved that people’s pensions weren’t adequate.

“Why would anyone choose to go down this route unless they didn’t have a sufficient pension,” he said, “We’ve taken everything from these people, and now we want to take their homes as well.”

“People used to work hard to buy their own home and pass it on to their children, but today when children see their parents’ last will and testament, they will find that the home is 60% owned by someone else,” Vella added.

More efforts needed for workforce equality – Prime Minister

In a recorded message played at the conference, Joseph Muscat said that the occasion of Workers’ Day highlighted the importance for a deeper discussion on achieving gender equality in Malta’s workforce.

He said that due to government measures such as free child care, more women were entering the labour market, but this did not mean that there was now a level playing field for men and women.

“Although more women are working, it doesn’t mean they have equal rights,” Muscat said, “…But I believe the change can happen…”

Muscat promised that amidst the economic prosperity, the government would not be forgetting low income families which were still unable to make ends meet.

“We cannot forget families which have low incomes. Last year we reached a historical agreement to raise the minimum wage, but there are still families who don’t earn sufficient income.” 

“We are committed to helping them more,” he added.

Let’s look at social values, not economic numbers – Adrian Delia

In his video message, Opposition leader Adrian Delia said that measuring Malta’s economy in terms of GDP painted a picture that it was doing well, but that this did not necessarily correctly depict reality.

“Certain countries are measuring economic progress not only in terms of GDP, but also using social indicators. And these are the things which people truly feel, not just numbers,” Delia said.

He said that while all could agree that the economy was growing, much more emphasis had to be placed on discussing the direction in which society was heading. 

“The challenge looking forward is to determine if we merely want to have an economy based on numbers, or if we want to look at society’s values, such as the environment and quality of life.”