By Matthew Vella
Home Affairs and Justice Minister Tonio Borg has confirmed the Maltese Government will be moving according to the EU Directive which entered into force last Sunday, allowing asylum seekers access to the labour market after a stipulated period of time from the date of their application for asylum.
Directive 2003/9/EC, which lays down minimum standards for the reception of asylum seekers, will obliged Malta to grant asylum seekers applying for refugee status access to the labour market within a year of their application.
According to the directive, Member States have to determine a period of time from the date on which asylum seekers apply for refugee status, “during which an applicant shall not have access to the labour market”.
If a decision is not taken within one year of applying and the delay is not attributable to the applicant, Member States shall “decide the conditions for granting access to the labour market for the applicant”.
Yesterday marked the end of a two-day conference on irregular migration in which all players within the field of migration and political parties offered their contributions on the current climate of migration affecting the Maltese islands.
It is apparent however that the access of asylum seekers to the labour market, irrespective of whether they have been granted refugee status or not, has not been made public. The policy issued by the Ministry for Home Affairs on its detention policy and irregular migration does not mention the fact that the Maltese Government will be moving to award asylum seekers the right to seek training and employment after one year in detention.
At present, the Immigration Act states that anyone entering Malta illegally is held in detention until their application for asylum is decided, and will only be allowed to work if the person is granted refugee status or given temporary humanitarian protection.
The new directive also allows asylum seekers to seek vocational training as they await permission to enter the labour market. Asylum seekers will also keep their right to work if their unsuccessful application for refugee status is appealed, until the appeals process is finalised. Rejection will mean that the asylum seeker will be repatriated.
However the directive also states that EU citizens and legally resident third-country nationals will still retain priority over access to the labour market.
Unions and employers at the conference yesterday also warned against the perils of discrimination within the labour market between refugees and Maltese workers.
Gejtu Vella, the Union Haddiema Maqghudin’s secretary-general, pointed out that certain employers have been taking on refugees and migrants at low wages, a factor which undercuts the Maltese worker looking for employment. Vella described the act as “deplorable”, saying that these workers can end up going underground or even abused by employers who do not pay them just wages.
Vella said the country had to recognise the difficulties faced by asylum seekers because of the destiny that has brought them over to Malta. “We have a duty to help,” Vella said, who warned against the fomenting of “racist and elitist nuclei”.
The General Workers Union secretary-general Tony Zarb also said that his union was against all forms of racism and discrimination in the labour market, and concurred with Vella on the prevalence of discrimination amongst certain Maltese employers.
“It is a known fact that these people are being exploited and given inferior work conditions, ultimately damaging Maltese workers who are undercut by these workers for the profit of others.”
Zarb said that certain sectors, particularly construction, were known for employers who report illegal workers when they would be up for payment. Zarb said the GWU welcomed refugees, who are entitled to work in Malta, to enjoy the same rights as all workers.
The Malta Employers Association’s director-general Joseph Farrugia hinted at the need of making better use of the skills of refugees, talking about the need to regularise such employment and assuring that the migrant worker is integrated in the world of work. Farrugia said the greatest dignity that can be afforded to the refugee was to allow them to contribute to the country and its economy,