Last Updated on Sunday, 8 October, 2023 at 9:20 am by Andre Camilleri
The General Workers’ Union (GWU) has presented its pre-Budget 2024 proposals, describing them as a reflection of the nation’s priorities, values, and commitment to the well-being of Maltese citizens.
The union on Monday highlighted that bipartisan cooperation will be vital in reaching a consensus to promote the values towards the country’s long-term future.
With an eye towards the long-term, the GWU’s pre-2024-Budget proposals call for a strategic economic vision to be formulated. They called for this vision to provide the country’s economic direction for the next two decades. The Union believes that also focusing on strong niche economic sectors should lead to better quality of life through lesser pressures on local environments and general infrastructure.
Therefore, one of the primary objectives behind these proposals is to invest in key sectors that can motivate economic growth and job creation. Central areas in their suggestions pertain to the green and digital transition (without being detrimental to the workforce), towards improving the robustness behind healthcare and social welfare, refining local infrastructure (sewage and electricity distributions) for the nation’s ecological well-being, and prioritising education, skill development, and fiscal responsibility.
“By focusing on essential infrastructure development, education, and research, we can bolster our economy and foster innovation”, the GWU’s Secretary General Josef Bugeja said. The importance of artificial intelligence was noted in this green and digital transition, as long as these newer technologies do not become detrimental to the existing workforce, they counselled.
Beginning by referencing the predicted slowdown in economic growth, they suggested for the government to continue absolving energy and fuel costs. Due to the vital importance of tourism towards the Maltese economy, they also suggested for the immediate introduction of skills cards, also referred to as “skills passports”.
Within the tourism industry, this skills card is meant to detail a comprehensive record of an individual’s qualifications and competencies. Describing the evolving nature of this sector, GWU stated that the implementation of skills passports should “empower professionals to the changing demands” within the industry while ensuring a diversely skilled workforce to contribute towards the sector’s growth and competitiveness.
They advocated for quality tourism to be bolstered and for youths to be better entices to work in the tourism sector.
The General Workers’ Union took some time to reference the COVID-19 pandemic and the permanent changes incurred into our daily lives following it. During this segment, they discussed their suggestions towards improving mental health services and teleworking conditions. In relation to mental health, it was suggested for a course to be introduced as part of first aid services – one tailored for those who may require mental health assistance.
Referencing teleworking, they called for legislation in this regard to be updated, citing that current legislation on remote working is archaic, dating back to 2004.
In regards to pay, they called for all work on Sundays to be provided at double pay, irrespective of the economic sector functioned. Moreover, it was proposed that COLA is revised on an annual basis and calculated depending on existing salaries, revised collective agreements, and inflation; the salaries of all disciplined forces were called to increase. COLA was also called not to be taxable so that beneficiaries in need can truly make the most out of these monetary bonuses.
The union’s Secretary General, Josef Bugeja, spoke about the GWU’s intended aim to bolster values of equal and deserved pay. Therefore, it was also suggested for all performance bonuses and received commissions to be included in national insurance (NI) payments; the reasoning behind this was so that these added payments are included in workers’ pensions. Furthermore, they also proposed for all overtime income to have a fixed taxation rate of 15%.
In an additional attempt to aid the most financially vulnerable, it was also recommended for the Government to subsidize people on minimum wage should they wish to enter the property market. To aid these persons’ ability to rent out property, the Government should increase these subsidies to cover 75% of their rent, according to GWU.
To promote quality of life, themes of stability and support were iterated. According to this set of proposals, the government should ensure that special sick leave is provided to women who unfortunately experience a miscarriage to ensure that these people can take time away from the workplace to grieve and heal from these traumatic experiences without incurring any financial burden.
The quote “justice delayed is justice denied” was spoken during this press conference to highlight the importance of social justice and to respect the rule of law. The GWU expressed its satisfaction towards the introduction of schemes that were established to address past injustices. Resultantly, further investment into these schemes was called upon to address other pending injustices, e.g., ex-Verdala employees and the ex-Shipyard workers.
Furthermore, they called for every euro taken from the social benefits racket to be collected. The GWU stated that the entire social welfare framework could be placed at risk if the government does not receive significant amounts of national insurance contributions from employers over the long-term. They told those in attendance that this practice is an example of misappropriation of funds experienced in the Maltese islands and that this total was told to them to be around the estimate of €400 million; they also noted that between 2012-2022, “the Government saved around €41 million after identifying fraudsters” that were misallocating social benefits.
In regards to pensions, the GWU stated that “the Government should continue to further incentivise workers to seek private pension plans – either individual or collective – as well as our past proposal (alongside the Chamber of Commerce)”.
Their doubled-down proposal with the Chamber of Commerce entailed for a flexi-employment option to replace the current “all or nothing approach” for people who have provided full 40-year contributions and are of at least 61 years of age. This proposal is said to tackle the income discrimination that exists between those born before and after 1962.
Their collective proposal would allow such experienced persons to “balance their needs and opt out of a 40-hour week whilst remaining active in the labour market”. They believe that this would help retiring workers along the process of active ageing while retaining their valuable expanded knowledge.
To ensure that this proposal does not turn into an “exit route” for workers between the ages of 61 and 64 years of age, it was proposed for pensions to be drawn down at a pro-rated rate depending on their age; for those retiring at 61, the entitled pension income would pro-rated at 50%, for those retiring at 62, this would increase to 60%, followed by 70% for those a year older, and 85% for those retiring at 64 years of age.
On the environmental side of things, the union publicized its wishes for air and noise pollution to be more appropriately tackled; as an example, they referenced the possibility to adopt stricter emission standards to ensure air quality.
Aside from also calling for tighter protection standards for the local water table, the GWU also advocated for the right to sunshine; “there is no point in investing in solar panels and afterwards there is an adjacent development that obstructs the sunlight”. In such cases, the ideas of utilising designated solar farms and prioritising streetscaping in locality scaping were put forward.
Additionally, the union pleaded for Gozo’s natural beauty to be retained and centred around, and for projects pertaining to Gozitan healthcare to be sought to be finished. Some natural open spaces were encouraged to be made accessible for families to enjoy before the representatives of the GWU urged for the completion of Gozitan healthcare facilities – namely the Victoria Health Centre and the building for the Gozo General Hospital.
To conclude this press conference, the GWU stated their belief “that this budget should serve as a reflection of the priorities, values, and well-being of general society”. As a result, sustainability, quality of life, and inclusive growth were reiterated and reasoned to be the central themes for the strategic economic plan they wish to see for the incoming 20 years.
“Sustainability – economic and social sustainability – is for people to enjoy some quality of life”, they reiterated.
After briefly discussing their budget proposals, the General Workers’ Union announced that it shall host a conference this coming October in order to celebrate their 80th anniversary since being founded in 1943. This conference shall feature a special video to commemorate these 80 years, as well as speeches from both PN leader Bernard Grech and the Prime Minister Robert Abela.