Foreign workers

What is our long-term national strategy for our workforce and economic development? What we decide as a country will undoubtedly have an impact on generations of Maltese and determine the type of economy we are going to inherit


by Kevin-James Fenech

Kevin is the founder and owner of JOB Search - and FENCI Consulting

I was astonished to read that seven out of 10 new workers during the period 2012-2018 were foreign nationals or expats. Put another way, 70% of newly created jobs in this period were taken up by foreign workers.

According to Jobsplus, our workforce is now made up of 77% Maltese workers vs 23% foreign workers; the number of employed foreign nationals at the end of 2018 amounted to 55,280 persons, compared to the almost 4,000 persons in 2002; and almost 61% originate from other EU member states and 38% are Third Country Nationals.

I find these numbers staggering. I also feel that as a country we need to take stock of the situation.

I mean: What is our long-term national strategy for our workforce and economic development? What we decide as a country will undoubtedly have an impact on generations of Maltese and determine the type of economy we are going to inherit.

Coincidentally, the UK is currently having a similar debate and the new Tory government led by Boris Johnson seems to be advocating a points based immigration system which discourages low skilled workers and attempts to attract the so-called ‘brightest and the best’. In fact, the reform is arguably the biggest shake-up to the UK border rules since the UK joined the Common Market in 1973.

Home Secretary Priti Patel insists it’s ‘…about time British businesses invest in British workers…’ and give low-skilled jobs to the ‘8 million people in the UK who are economically inactive’. I take it that this is the death of the EU’s Free of Movement for workers!? What happens in the UK will have a knock-on effect on the EU.

So far the local narrative has been that due to the aggressive economic growth our country experienced between 2013-2018, sometimes reaching 8%+, we had a workforce gap between the creation of new jobs and demand from job seekers.

Therefore, to temporarily plug this labour supply gap, we encouraged foreign workers (EU Nationals and Third Country Nationals) to our shores. As a short term measure, I can’t fault the approach but in the long-term we need to think beyond.

My questions is: Quo Vadis Malta? Since the answer to this question has serious implications.

I am neither in favour nor against; I just think we lack a long term strategy. What ratio of local-to-foreign workers do we want/need/prefer?

What type of foreign workers do we want to attract (Best+brightest vs. low skilled vs. a mixture of the two)? What type of an economy do we want and driven by which industries and what are their needs? What are our national priorities? What will the EU look like in five years’, 10 years’, time?

According to a recent BBC report, farming, catering and nursing will be hard hit by the new immigration system and they will find it difficult to fill all vacancies.

The Royal College of Nursing said the proposals would ‘…not meet the health and care needs of the population…’ and the National Farmers’ Union has raised ‘serious concerns’ about the ‘failure to recognise British food and farming’s needs’. Tom Hadley, Director of Policy at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation, said: “Jobs the government considers ‘low-skilled’ are vital to the wellbeing and business growth.

The announcement threatens to shut out the people we need to provide services the public rely on.”

I am not suggesting we pursue a MALTEXIT so as to copy the UK immigration system but there is scope for improvement in our own system. I also think that the EU will need to go back to the drawing board and we need to be ready.

We live in a time when locally anything as high as 80%+ of all job applicants are non-Maltese and a big number of those are Third Country Nationals. Therefore, our economy is increasingly becoming dependent on foreign workers, which is fine depending on our Strategy.

I do think, however, we first need to define what our national long term strategy is since only this will help determine what our next big decision should be in this subject.

The 2013-2018 economic boom is historically unprecedented and our economy or infrastructure wasn’t prepared for it. Hence, the influx of foreign workers taking up 70% of all new jobs was a stop gap solution; a short-term solution. We now need to think Strategically and define exactly what we need. We need to move beyond the short term!

Quo Vadis Malta?

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