Relatively low March unemployment figures proof businesses striving to retain workers – MEA boss

Malta Employers Association boss, Joe Farrugia revealed to BusinessToday that the relatively small increase in the number of jobless people registering for work amid the COVID-19 crisis showed that employers were doing their best to retain workers 


The relatively small increase in the number of jobless people registering for work amid the COVID-19 crisis attests to the fact that employers are doing their best to retain workers, Joe Farrugia said.

The Malta Employers Association boss told BusinessToday that the question of whether unemployment figures would remain low depended to a large degree on how long the crisis would last as it tests businesses’ ability to keep their staff employed.

NSO statistics published earlier this week indicated that the number of people registering for work increased by 353 in March. The number of people registering for work with Jobsplus, a government agency, stood at 2,125 last month, an increase of 20% over the previous year.

“I think the March figures clearly show that many companies are making big efforts to keep their workers, even though economic activity is down,” he said.

Farrugia said that the government should recognise the importance of keeping unemployment low, since this would ensure a quicker recovery once the situation start to normalise.

He said that, following the government’s first phase of economic aid measures, a second phase should be put in place to assist workers in more sectors.

“In Phase 2, the government has to see how its benefits can be pushed to reach more sectors. Such economic measures ultimately help employees,” he said.

The more help the government provided, the less damage would be caused to the economy, he said.

“It is true that some sectors, such as tourism, will keep feeling the effects for a considerable period after the pandemic passes. But other sectors would be able to move forward quicker if assistance is given now,” Farrugia added.

Joe Farrugia
Joe Farrugia

MEA proposals

In a statement earlier, the MEA said that despite some optimistic figures regarding the number of new cases of Covid-19, many businesses expected the negative effects of the virus outbreak to extend for months, if not more in some sectors.

The classification of companies by NACE codes in two groups has worked as an immediate measure, yet numerous companies that fall in Appendix B category have also had their operations at a standstill, perhaps even more so than others who are eligible for the benefits offered to those falling under Appendix A.

“There are also many cases of companies which do not fall under any Appendix who are paying their employees from their own resources. They cannot do so indefinitely,” the MEA said.

The Association is appealing for a re-thinking of the schemes and, at this stage, to adopt a more case by case approach to further mitigate the impact of the economic crisis on businesses and families.

It proposed a number of measures:

  • Utility rates for both businesses and households should be reviewed with immediate effect. The international price of oil – at less than $5 a barrel - is the lowest in decades, and this is certainly not reflected in the current rates, at a time when many households are consuming more energy because they are spending more time at home.
  • Training grants should be more flexible and enhanced. The 21-day notification for application acceptance needs to be shortened for companies to be more motivated to train their people. Specific grants for online training can be introduced.
  • Wage supplements should be extended to cover more employees and sectors. In some cases, there is an anomaly whereby employees are applying pressure on their employer to be made redundant since the unemployment benefit exceeds the supplement they will get if they remain in employment.
  • Rents for factories facing difficulties should be temporarily waived.
  • Salaries of employees in the public sector who are idle should be reduced. On the other hand, a special bonus should be awarded to employees in the health sector for the excellent service they are delivering.

GWU lambasts call for pay cut for idle public servants

The General Workers’ Union has voiced its disagreement with the Malta Employers’ Association’s call for salary cuts for idle public servants.

“Workers in public service as well as the public sector are working hard in various areas having to carry out their own sacrifices for the public’s wellbeing,” the GWU said.

The union also pointed out that a number of workers are having to live and reside at hotels and apartments away from their families in order to provide services to society.

The GWU also pointed out that various workers in public service have not stopped working, with the union saying that for some hours have actually increase due to teleworking.

“The GWU believes government workers should be praised for their continual work, not unjustifiably punished,” the union said.

In a statement, MEA reiterated that its proposal was targeted at idle public-sector workers not all public-sector employees.

“MEA reiterated that its proposal was targeted at idle public-sector workers not all public-sector employees,” a statement read.

The association stood by its principle, that workers who have no work available, cannot be privileged and expect a full pay including allowances for giving nothing in return, while others in the private sector in a similar situation suffer from reduced income or face redundancy.

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