The pandemic really has put a timer on Muscatian feel-good political rhetoric, hasn’t it? Indeed

The Skinny | No. 27. Silvio Schembri & Post-Covid Third Country Nationals

‘Schembri’s hopelessly stiff delivery in the ‘apology’ video suggests that the auto-cue he’s reading from is doing some hardcore heavy-lifting’
‘Schembri’s hopelessly stiff delivery in the ‘apology’ video suggests that the auto-cue he’s reading from is doing some hardcore heavy-lifting’

What are we skinning? Economy Minister Silvio Schembri’s ‘unfortunate’ post-COVID implications for third country nationals working in Malta.

Why are we skinning it? Because it was a perfect storm of cross-party appeals to racist sentiment and a merciless X-Ray examination of the ethical problems inherent in the dynamics of cheap imported labour.

So what happened exactly? Forgive me, but these are heady days. Understood. Responding to a concern raised by Beppe Fenech Adami in parliament, where the PN MP made his own appeal to xenophobes by claiming that COVID-19 redundancies would result in foreigners running riot on our streets, Schembri insinuated that talks are underway with the Home Ministry that could result in the deportation of third-country nationals which lose employment as a result of post-COVID-19 economic strain. “Charity begins at home,” he said.

Yikes. An unfortunate choice of words, given the times. Yes, and ‘unfortunate’ was precisely the way Schembri himself described his own comments in a subsequent video statement on Facebook, where he apologised for any offence caused, confirmed that no direct terminations of employment have been ordered and clarified that EU workers will not be affected.

Sounds like it really was a case of the pressure getting to him. I would hazard to say that it is Beppe Fenech Adami who deserves the harsher critical backlash.

Yes I mean... foreigners surely don’t have the monopoly on running riot in our streets? Fenech Adami’s stance is also a poignant synecdoche of the PN’s way of doing things: grand moralistic statements rooted in historically reactionary habits and assumptions, meant to stoke conservative sentiment and lull them into a false sense of security and the belief that the PN is the natural vanguard of ‘traditional values’ and national heritage.

On the flipside, Schembri appears to be reflecting a political attitude that’s pragmatic to a fault. Yes, he clumsily attempted to make a rigidly legalistic argument to quash Fenech Adami’s concerns. Because yes, third country nationals without renewed work permits technically don’t have a legal right of stay in Malta, but should this really be the time to bring that to the forefront?

The pandemic really has put a timer on Muscatian feel-good political rhetoric, hasn’t it? Indeed.

Do say: “While it is good that Schembri and his team recognised the inherent insensitivity of his original statement and that we should acknowledge the gaffe-prone stress everyone is under these days, neither should we distract ourselves from the inherent problematics of imported labour. More humanity and solidarity all round, please.”

Don’t say: “Schembri’s hopelessly stiff delivery in the ‘apology’ video suggests that the auto-cue he’s reading from is doing some hardcore heavy-lifting, worthy of our Prime Minister in younger, fitter and bodybuilding-happy days.”

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