23 July 2003

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Toon this week: Spare a spot in Malta’s employment pyramid

Legalise it

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.

Copyright © Newsworks Ltd. Malta.
Editor: Saviour Balzan
The Business Times, Newsworks Ltd, 2 Cali House, Vjal ir-Rihan, San Gwann SGN 02, Malta
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