this week: Spare a spot in Maltas employment pyramid
The recent escape of illegal immigrants from police custody has once
again put their plight at centre stage. The daring escape out of police
headquarters may have done nothing to enamour us more of their difficulties,
but a case must be made for those that suffer enormous hardship to improve
their standard of living and quality of life.
Thousands of illegal immigrants work in Malta at any one time and while
the argument has often been made that these take the jobs of Maltese
a strong case can be made for the desirability of welcoming those that
seek work on these islands.
In the tourism trade, Malta has long recognised the need to employ foreigners
over the summer months and these workers, many of whom are students
on summer holidays, have been accepted and work without major problems
even if not all hold work permits.
The construction industry has been invaded by foreign workers to the
extent that on certain building sites it is difficult to spot a Maltese.
We have to start accepting that for certain jobs, including those in
the construction industry as well as cleaners in catering establishments,
there simply are not enough Maltese willing to do the jobs.
Illegal employment is tantamount to exploitation, as illegal workers
do not benefit from social security and are unlikely to be offered the
same benefits as Maltese ones. In some cases the exploitation is extreme,
with several workers finding no alternative but to live on the work
site, accept miserable wages for long hard hours of work, without any
hope of improvement. However, these immigrants make a positive contribution
to the Maltese economy with their unrecognised work.
The time has surely come for Malta to change its attitude towards illegal
immigrants and we do not mean just by improving the living quarters
where detainees are held.
In the film industry anyone working in Malta for a short period of time
has to fill in some simple forms and is given a temporary work permit.
Much the same can be done for others not so lucky to have contacts with
film companies. Malta can easily absorb several thousand foreign workers
for short periods of time, if not more permanently. What is essential
is that each person is given the same status, and works under the same
working conditions as their Maltese colleagues.
Admittedly people arriving by regular routes with all the necessary
documents intact do not present the same problems as those that arrive
unexpectedly on packed boats, but work can be found for both types with
better planning and organisation.
The argument that having foreign communities in Malta will weaken the
social fabric is a more than debatable.
In many countries different ethnic groups live side by side with national
populations and have contributed to diversity in what are increasingly
becoming rich multi-cultural societies. Diversity is generally not what
weakens society, quite the opposite, in fact.