Change, not outrage, is what Malta needs

Tomas Mikalauskas

Last Updated on Friday, 8 October, 2021 at 2:42 pm by Andre Camilleri

Tomas Mikalauskas, is the Chief Executive Officer of RecruitGiant Ltd, a Malta-based specialist recruitment company operating across Europe, the Middle East and Africa

The recent case of Lamin Jaiteh has once again focused public attention on working and employment conditions in Malta, particularly in the construction industry. And rightly so.

There have been many instances, in many sectors of the economy, where vulnerable individuals are exploited and made to work in unsafe conditions without being properly paid or having their rights respected. But will the necessary changes happen?

If we really do not want to see a repeat of what happened to Mr Jaiteh, then we need to have a hard think about our attitude to foreign workers. For too long, many in Malta, from policy-makers to certain employers and even some Maltese workers themselves, have viewed foreign labour as a stop gap, there to do jobs that Maltese were unable or, more frequently, unwilling to do. This view of foreigners as a temporary solution or as simply there to do the dirty work has reinforced the insularity, if not outright racism, of many.

The truth for Malta, as it is for many other European countries, however, is that its very survival depends on foreign, non-EU workers. The current labour shortage brought about by the structural ageing of our population but also, in part, due to the fact that many of the foreign workers, who were already in Malta pre-pandemic, were seen as disposable, is real. Now that our economy is open again, we are left wondering why we can’t find enough people. As a case in point, at RecruitGiant alone we currently have at least 500 openings available at any one time.

We need to realise, and accept, that Malta needs foreign workers to continue to prosper and that these workers are and will remain a permanent part of our society. They are not a stop gap, they are essential and we need to treat them as such especially when we remember that we are competing with the rest of the Western hemisphere to attract enough people to our shores to keep our economy running.

Luckily, Malta still retains many advantages in attracting human capital and talent. Of course, many of the non-EU workers who do come to Malta are looking for opportunities to learn and improve their skills. For many, the experience of working in Europe can also translate into much better career prospects back home. But these career and economic benefits are not exclusive to Malta.

Malta’s main advantage is the fact that it is English speaking, something which is a big plus for workers migrating from other former British colonies and elsewhere. A hot climate also helps. In other words, although Malta offers the benefits of other EU countries it also has a couple of added advantages in its favour.

Malta needs the labour and has the selling points to attract the people we need across all sectors and skill levels. A change in attitude, for many, is what’s missing. And this change in attitude would have benefits beyond the obvious. It would, for starters, mean that tolerance of abuse would decline while enforcement of existing regulations increases. It would, hopefully, also mean a more holistic national labour force strategy in which all stakeholders including recruiters, like us, can contribute to making the process of bringing non-EU workers to Malta less bureaucratic.

Employers and recruiters, who have always ensured that foreign workers coming to Malta have all their paperwork in order, a contract of employment in place and, where necessary, the right training to ensure they have the skills needed for the job, deserve more support for the work they do to keep Malta’s economic engine running. More importantly, however, we need everyone else in Malta to do their bit to ensure we all understand how valuable and essential foreign workers are so that those of us who are doing things properly are no longer undercut and delayed by those who refuse to acknowledge this truth.

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In 1994, the Malta Business Weekly became the first newspaper fully dedicated to business. Today this newspaper is a leader in business and financial news. Together with the launch of the MBW newspaper, the company started organising various business breakfasts to discuss various current issues that were targeting the business community in Malta.