Migrants paying significant fees to Maltese work agencies to acquire permits to work in the country are prohibited under international and domestic law, even though the practice is widespread in Malta.
The government’s recent Employment Policy for 2021-2030 has conceded that legal abuse is a major issue in the country due to little to no enforcement of these rules.
More and more agencies targeting migrant workers, who are eager to enter the country for employment, have been sprouting up over the country, in some cases imposing extortionate fees on applicants.
This includes hefty fees for work permits, particularly those looking for temporary work in the country.
Temporary work permits were introduced in 2019, in a bid to facilitate the hiring of non-EU nationals. However, agencies have pounced on the initiative tying up people to exploitative fees and debt.
The issue reached the national agenda following revelations on the pay conditions of workers in the platform industry, which includes food courier services like Bolt and Wolt. Many of the third-country national workers in those industries are often tied to particular agencies who also take a substantial cut of their income.
It should be made clear that the issue is not limited to the platform agencies with temporary work permits being used across a myriad of jobs in Malta, mostly in low-paying sectors.
The Employment Policy does look to address the lacuna by developing a new regulatory and licensing framework for such agencies. If they are not properly regulated, the policy warns, “agencies can exploit workers and can also lead to wage pressures due to their bargaining power”.
At present, there is no such framework and the government hopes that regulations will help protect workers in the future. Meanwhile, plans to restrict labour migration programmes will allow Malta to better cater for actual shortages while also ensuring adequate safeguards.
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