Malta’s high percentage of third country national workers helped “cushion” unemployment during the COVID-19 crisis, Prime Minister Robert Abela has said.
“Malta always thought of this cushion of third country nationals,” Abela said when interviewed on Realtà last night. “Our economy kept growing at a higher than average rate among EU countries in recent years and everyone knew that it would slow down sooner or later.”
“We are experiencing this slowdown earlier and more rapidly than expected but we had this cushion of third country nationals. I’m not saying we’re going to discriminate between workers but the reality was always clear that third country nationals can live in Malta so long as they have a job here.”
“We must recognise that third country nationals helped our economy grow and contributed taxes to our coffers but we alas had this cushion. I’m not saying unemployment won’t rise but this increase will be contained because one cannot talk of a higher unemployment rate if foreigners who lose their jobs return to their home countries.”
“The Chamber of Commerce has said that, through the strong financial package we launched, we managed to contain the unemployment rate. Unemployment can increase in some cases but we must keep it marginal.”
“For those who have unfortunately lost their job due to the COVID-19 situation, we increased the unemployment benefit to €800, which is higher than the minimum wage.”
Abela said Malta must aim to be one of the first countries whose economies starts turning once the COVID-19 pandemic is controlled, a situation he said could commence in a matter of weeks so long as the public abides by the health authorities’ social distancing advice.
He said he wants Malta to maintain its current “economic recipe”, including the relatively high involvement of third country nationals in the workforce.
“The mix of Maltese, EU and third country workers worked well in recent years and it’s the same recipe I want to see working in the future. It’s an inescapable reality that some workers, particularly third country nationals, won’t lose their jobs now, but this doesn’t mean that the moment we start running again, we won’t have a reality whereby jobs keep increasing, including for foreign workers, who are crucial for the economy.”
“While it was wise of us to have this cushion, we shouldn’t discriminate in any way or create stigma between workers because we cannot harm tis recipe which has brought about so much economic success.”
“We managed to utilise the resources of Maltese, European, Indian, Bangladeshi and Nepalese workers, and many of them practically consider themselves as Maltese. As much as possible, we must safeguard the jobs of third country nationals, but if we must prioritise we will always prioritise. However, I am confident that the economy will start running again.”