‘Not on’, Finance Minister says on low-income workers’ stagnated salaries

Last Updated on Sunday, 6 December, 2020 at 9:50 am by Andre Camilleri

Finance Minister Clyde Caruana believes that more must be done for low-income workers who have only seen a slight increase in their salaries, if at all.

Speaking to The Malta Independent on Sunday, the recently appointed minister said: “Over the past seven years, medium to high earning Maltese workers have seen a steady and solid increase in their salaries. However, low-income Maltese workers have seen their salaries either stay the same or increase very slightly. I think for any Government, let alone a Labour one, this is not on.

He explained that several social economic reforms, such as free childcare and the in-work benefit, have been introduced since 2013. “These have helped low-income workers, but we must do more so that these workers can have a job which allows them to own a home through a bank loan they can actually get, which will allow them to provide a good standard of living for their families and live with dignity. This is why employment will be given the same importance as finance.”

Asked what he believes are the biggest challenges his sector will face over the coming years, Caruana said that the immediate challenge will be to support local businesses to weather through the Covid-19 pandemic.  He said the idea being to keep businesses afloat and employees in their jobs, so that once the pandemic blows over, they can dive into the market relatively quickly and compete.

Malta’s businesses were hard hit as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, with some sectors, such as bars, having been forced to close to prevent the spread of the virus. The government had introduced a number of measures to support businesses, such as the wage supplement.

“In terms of employment, the goal is to continue building on the social and economic reforms. Pay equity and a sustainable employment model for Maltese and Gozitan low-earning workers are among the priorities.”

He was asked whether he agrees with the sentiment by some that banks are being too stringent when it comes to loaning funds, and that this could be due to international rules. Is there anything Malta can do to try and ease up such restrictions?

“Local banks have a major challenge in absorbing the ever-increasing regulatory weight while at the same time having to deal with the relatively small volume of the local market. This leads to a situation where the cost-benefit of new business is detrimental to consumer or commercial clients. On the other hand, it is entirely reasonable for the same clients to be able to access finance or open bank accounts in a timely and efficient way. I believe that there is still alot of work to be done in this sector; otherwise, we would risk a stall in economic activity.”

Over the past years Malta was put under the microscope by the international community, due to a number of major incidents that occurred. These incidents include the murder of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Panama Papers and public officials being mentioned in them.

In the middle of all this, many raised concerns about a number of questionable major contracts and agreements that were signed by the government.

Former Finance Minister Edward Scicluna, while being applauded by many for his handling of the economy, was also criticised for not standing up against projects which many argued were scandalous or were agreements which were not fully in Malta’s interest. Caruana was asked how he will handle such situations and whether he believes Scicluna tackled such situations well or if he would have done things differently.

“I think that, in the years to come, we will look back at Professor Scicluna’s tenure as a positive one which brought about an economic drive that has improved people’s lives in a very tangible way,” Caruana responded.

During a prior interview with this newsroom, Caruana was asked whether he believes Malta will pass the Moneyval test. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we will pass,” he had responded.

Asked now how confident he is that Malta will pass, Caruana said: “We will continue doing all it takes to make sure that Malta is in the best position, not just for Moneyval, but to have a strong reputation in this area.”

Asked whether the government safely say that it will not introduce new taxes or increase taxes in the foreseeable future, Caruana said that “the proof is in the pudding and in last month’s budget there were no new taxes introduced.”

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