[WATCH] Workers least to benefit from COVID-19 recovery package, UĦM boss laments

UĦM CEO Josef Vella says on Xtra that only 6% of €900 million mini-budget will end up benefitting workers directly, but GWU head Josef Bugeja defends package

UĦM CEO Josef Vella was one of the guests on tonight's Xtra
UĦM CEO Josef Vella was one of the guests on tonight's Xtra

Workers were largely forgotten in the COVID-19 rescue package which the government announced earlier this week, Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin CEO Josef Vella has said.

Vella, who was one of the guests on tonight’s Xtra along with representatives of Malta’s other major unions, insisted that he had no issue with the government helping businesses by slashing electricity tariffs, but questioned why such measures were not also expanded to include employees.

“It wasn’t just the owners that suffered, so why shouldn’t we give them aid as well where electricity tariffs are concerned”, Vella argued, pointing out that many employees were given forced leave for every hour that that their place of employment was closed.

The union boss highlighted that workers were only getting 6% of the €900 million mini-budget, adding that these are merely “the crumbs that fell from the table”.

“We have no problem with turning the economy. We have no problem with helping the industry sector, but who is going to look after the purchasing power of the worker”, Vella asked.

Employers’ union head Joseph Farrugia, who joined via video conferencing, agreed with Vella’s views, underlining that “our proposal was that the rates should be reduced for the consumer as well, and not just for businesses”.

GWU secretary general Josef Vella defended the COVID-19 recovery package
GWU secretary general Josef Vella defended the COVID-19 recovery package

Farrugia also said that while the MEA was pleased with the measures in general, it would have been better if the wage supplement benefit would have been left in its current form for the coming months, as opposed to the watered-down version that was announced on Monday.

“The scheme should have been extended in the same way as it was, and Annex B should have been removed, so that you would have the benefits of Annex A but spread out over more companies and over a longer period of time”, Farrugia said. 

However, Josef Bugeja, General Workers’ Union’s secretary general, defended the recovery package, arguing that it cannot be seen in isolation, but should be viewed as being part of the process through which the country will emerge from this crisis.

“You have to view it holistically”, Bugeja insisted. “The first step was containing the spread of the virus and ensuring that there wouldn’t be mass unemployment, and now we need to kick-start the economy”.

MDA pushing for incentives that will benefit everyone – Marthese Portelli

The programme also covered the recovery package’s measures related to the construction industry.

Malta Developers’ Association director general and former PN MP Marthese Portelli said that her lobby was coming up with proposals which will benefit all stakeholders in the construction industry and not just developers.

“The country can only move forward if we think about those who wish to sell, those who wish to buy, and those who wish to invest”, she said.

MDA director general was also on the programme
MDA director general was also on the programme

Portelli pointed to the property tax cut announced as part of the package as an example of this.

She said that when proposing this incentive, the association did not merely propose a reduction in the seller’s tax, but also insisted that the buyer’s tax rate be cut as well.

Portelli emphasised that the association was determined to continue working so as to further improve and refine the construction industry in Malta

This was a sentiment shared by Simone Vella Lenicker, president of the Chamber of Architects, which recently put forward a proposal for a new building and construction regulation framework.

Vella Lenicker said that the Chamber had been reflecting on the future of the construction industry since 2007, but bemoaned the fact that true change happens at a very slow pace.

“The wheel was turning very slowly, and so we felt that in this time of COVID-19 – a time of reflection -  it was the opportune moment to remind people of what we had in 2007, as well as in May of last year, so as to restart the discussion”, she said.

Vella Lenicker said that there has been too much focus on volume at the expense of quality in recent years, and called for the registration, licensing, and classification of all contractors, and the implementation of new building regulations that clearly establish minimum standards.

“There need to be building regulations which set certain minimum standards”, she said, “because we are living in a country that currently has no minimum standards, and that isn’t acceptable”.

Portelli noted that the MDA has long been insisting on the licensing and classification of contractors, adding that the association is also calling for a penalty points system so that rule breakers can be penalised.

“The seriousness is there”, she said, “now we all need to work together to make sure that we truly have a regulatory framework that functions”.

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