Adrian Delia has denied making a political U-turn with regards to his position on foreign workers, insisting that the argument he made while Opposition leader has actually been proven right.
“A couple of years ago, I said that if you grow the economy on importation of foreign workers who come and go, you are risking that in an economic downturn they’ll leave and when we try to recover we wouldn’t find a native workforce ready to go,” the former PN leader told Lovin Malta, stressing that his criticism is against the system and not the workers themeless.
“Dependency on a haphazard foreign workforce which is not endemic and precarious is not advisable for sustainable growth.”
Delia faced some criticism over the weekend following his reaction to complaints by restaurateurs that they’re facing serious staff shortages as a result of foreign workers leaving Malta during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“When the storm hits, the foreigners are the first to leave and let us fend for ourselves,” Delia said. “Then when we seek them out, we cannot find them, and suffer a double blow as a result.”
A number of political observers pointed out the inconsistencies in his arguments, seeing as he had heavily criticised Malta’s “reliance” on foreign workers during his tenure as Opposition leader.
His warnings included claims the economy only grew because Malta’s population increased and catch-all statements that foreign workers are “wreaking havoc” with the Maltese identity and “making society poorer”.
“Oh, so now we are missing those “low quality” foreigners that create “gangs” and make Maltese people feel insecure, you know, the same people you were ranting against two years ago?” human rights activist Alex Dimitrijevic said.
“How bloody predictable, the ‘foreigner’ will always get the blame, eh?”
Popular political pundit Jeremy Camilleri quipped that while he doesn’t sympathise with the politicians who removed Delia as PN leader, Delia was “as firm as Russell Crowe’s belly in his most recent film”.
However, Delia told Lovin Malta that the point he tried to make as PN leader was that growing the economy through an increase in population was a risky strategy because foreign workers might eventually leave.
“I had warned that, particularly in a downturn, these workers would leave and we would therefore find it difficult to recruit when the upturn returns,” he said.
“That’s exactly what’s happening. Rather than a U-turn, it’s a warning come true.”
“If you want stability, you cannot rely on a temporary or precarious workforce. A growing economy needs to choose its sectors of choice and ensure that we attract talented foreigners who add value and become part of a growing society.”
“Directional comprehensive planning growth is key rather than piecemeal reactive growth in only one sector, such as property.”
Asked what the solution is if there’s a lack of people in the native workforce who want to work in catering, Delia said these are discussions that can be held, with one potential being a shift from a “mass market volume model” of tourism to an “upmarket” one.
Last month, the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association flagged the shortage of hospitality workers as a “big problem”. Not only have several foreign workers been laid off and left the country, but Maltese restaurant workers found a new job during lockdown and are reluctant to return to the industry.
The Malta Employers’ Association has warned the problem of a shortage of foreign workers extends to other parts of the private sector, specifically the construction and care industries.