Editorial | Facilitating the engagement of foreign labour

A transparent system ensures that prospective workers know what is expected of them, what the costs are at every stage and the timeframes they can expect for their application to be processed


Malta’s economic performance over the past eight years has necessitated the importation of foreign labour to sustain growth.

More activity created more job opportunities and in a country where full employment had become a reality, the obvious resource to tap was foreign labour.

This is not to say that nothing can be done to increase by a few more notches the participation rate of women in the labour market and encourage people to continue working beyond pensionable age.

But even if these two cohorts are tapped to the full, it will still leave gaping holes in the jobs market that have to be filled by foreign labour.

Healthcare, elderly care, retail, leisure and accommodation, transport, waste and construction are only a few of the industries where foreign labour has become a crucial cog to sustain high service levels.

And there is no sign on the horizon that this demand for foreign workers will go away in the foreseeable future.

In a post-COVID recovery, employers are finding it difficult to source workers at every level of skill. This is keeping up the demand for foreign workers to fill in these gaps.

The reasons for the labour shortage are multiple and in some instances, a finger can be pointed at some sectors for failing to improve working conditions and wages to be able to attract people.

However, finding the right balance is not an easy one, especially when better employment packages can result in being less competitive when compared to other countries.

But beyond this consideration, engaging foreign workers remains an important feature in the current economic set up and the authorities must do all they can to cut down on bureaucracy while ensuring that safeguards are in place to ensure people are not exploited.

It is within this context that concerns over delays in processing applications for workers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh must be addressed. These are three important source countries for foreign labour.

Staff shortages in Malta’s High Commission in India and a cartel of private middlemen that control the flow of visa applicants, have resulted in huge delays for people wanting to come to work in Malta from Indian and Pakistan.

Any Indian worker applying directly through the High Commission is being told the next available appointment is April because the private agents have hogged the system. And these agents charge exorbitant fees that many times are prohibitive.

Chamber of SMEs CEO Abigail Mamo has called on the Maltese authorities to take immediate action to facilitate and streamline the application process.

“The authorities need to take immediate action now, because this situation is now much, much worse than it has ever been and many business oweners are becoming desperate,” Mamo told sister newspaper MaltaToday last Sunday.

She also raised concerns over the COVID health regulations governing foreign travel, which have complicated things for workers and employers.

This leader believes that the visa and work permit system has to be based on clear rules that can be understood by employers and applicants.

A transparent system ensures that prospective workers know what is expected of them, what the costs are at every stage and the timeframes they can expect for their application to be processed.

Given the importance of the Indian and Pakistani labour markets for the domestic economy, government must take a deep look at the workings of the Maltese High Commission and beef up its resources so as not to stifle economic progress in Malta.

More in People