01-07 November 2000

The ETC and the EU
By Eddie Fenech Adami

Prime Minister Eddie Fenech Adami was a guest of honour at the Employment and Training Corporation’s conference titled "Malta and the EU Employment Guidelines." Dr Fenech Adami spoke at length on the government’s vision of progress in the employment sector. The following are extracts from his speech.

Our vision of progress is based upon two basic articles of faith. The first relates to the nature of the individual and the centrality of work to the dignity of the human person. We believe that an individual seeks not only to work, but also to work at a level of creativity and responsibility that taxes his or her capacity to the full. We are problem-solving creatures who, in an optimal environment, continue learning throughout our lives to make better use of our mental and physical talents, seeking to establish and achieve personal goals and to contribute towards making the world a little better than we found it.

Coupled with this is our second article of faith - the importance of a socially inclusive society based on justice and prosperity for all. This vision is incompatible with unbridled individualism, which in the name of freedom allows inequitable access to material and human resources. It is also incompatible with an unchecked collectivism, which in the name of equality exercises an increasingly rigid control over its members. We hold that both freedom and equality must be set in the context of solidarity and of shared responsibility for social and economic progress. While committed to creating wealth, we understand society's wealth to reflect its well-being as a whole - not some average notion of well-being but the welfare and participation of each and every individual.

It is with these beliefs in mind that we keep full employment at the centre of our Programme. Enough good work for everyone is a central value of my Government, and one towards which we have taken concrete steps in our administration. To mention but a few examples, in the past two years alone we have striven to take forward Malta's industrial policy in the belief that promoting export-led growth and local entrepreneurship will generate new employment opportunities. Our position in this regard is captured in the White Paper "Prosperity in Change", published in 1999 which addresses the challenges and opportunities facing Maltese industry. Reforms to our Industrial Development Act are also envisaged to inject new technologies and modern operational practices into Malta. This brief overview of our efforts at a national level brings me to my third point. Malta does not operate in isolation, but in a context of global change.

While we may have little say over global change in markets, technology and labour supply, we do have choices in responding to change. With faith in our people's competence and their capacity to adapt, my Government has made its choice to manage risk with responsibility.

To do so, we must also look beyond our shores. We firmly believe that Malta stands to gain from locating itself squarely within the European context and from the opportunities for social and economic progress that membership would bring.

We believe that we have much to gain in the field of employment from a closer affiliation with the Union. We believe that harmonisation of labour market regulations and social policies, promotes economic stability and protects workers' interests.

This strategy presents us with both quality challenges and vital learning opportunities. The requisite annual monitoring of our employment and training performance, based as it is on a system of open co-ordination, would provide important and independent feedback to Government and the social partners. We believe that benchmarking to the practices of best-performing states will be an essential learning experience that will keep Malta productive and competitive. The restructuring necessary for competitiveness will also benefit greatly from our exposure to training and employment initiatives at the European level, such as the Socrates and Leonardo da Vinci Programmes and the Youth for Europe, as well as the assistance available under the European Social Fund.

Firm steps have already been taken to ensure Malta's adherence to EU standards in employment and training. Firstly, the screening process of Chapters 2, 13 and 18 has been completed. Malta has accepted, and will implement by accession, the acquis communautaire with respect to Chapter 2 pertaining to Freedom of Movement of Persons, and Chapter 13, on Social Policy and Employment. Negotiations on Chapter 18 on Education and Training have been successfully concluded.

Secondly, the requisite Labour Market Background Study has been prepared by ETC and presented to the European Commission. Preliminary discussions on this Study with representatives of the Commission have in fact started yesterday afternoon, with a view to the drawing up of a Joint Assessment Paper on the local situation.

The Employment and Training Corporation is Malta's national employment service. It is the prism through which the EU Guidelines will largely be operationalised, and through which feedback will be channelled to key actors in employment and training - both at its regular Clients' Fora and through other appropriate mechanisms such as the sectoral committees to be set up over the coming months.

The next two years are challenging ones. To mention but a few, Government has mandated ETC to draw up, over the coming months, a National Human Resource Policy and Strategy. This document is to be based on broad consultation and will reflect current and future labour market requirements and their implications for education and training.

Another major initiative following the Joint Assessment Paper will be the drawing up of Malta's first National Employment Action Plan, as provided for in the EU Employment Guidelines as from 1 January 2002.

The rolling out of the National Plan for an IT Literate Workforce will see a massive drive to train the Maltese labour force in Information Technology, while the setting up of the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology, will provide a critical boost to standards in vocational education and training. On a related note, a legal notice has been published on the establishment of a National Professional and Vocational Qualifications system to ensure, through certification, high-quality skills among our workforce, and the first Malta Professional and Vocational Qualifications Awards Council has been appointed this week. This measure, together with the setting up of the Malta College for Arts, Science and Technology, are the sound foundations for the paradigm shift Malta requires in its vocational education and training set-up, and a major investment in Malta’s human resources.

We are doing our best yet we cannot do it alone. I take this opportunity to highlight the need for adaptability and solidarity all round, and for a national commitment to growth. Adaptability is a quality that our society must strengthen if we are to benefit from change and the opportunities it can bring. We believe adaptability and solidarity to be inseparable, entailing among other measures the creation of new jobs; the readiness to invest in human capital, whether one's own or one's employees; better arrangements for matching those who are seeking work with the work that they could do; and reorganising our workforce while maintaining continuity of employment. It is only such a commitment to growth - by Government, social partners and workers themselves - that will bring about sustainable social and economic progress.

The Business Times, Network House, Vjal ir-Rihan San Gwann SGN 07
Tel: (356) 382741-3, 382745-6 | Fax: (356) 385075 | e-mail: editorial@networkpublications.com.mt