“When the storm hits, the foreigners are the first to leave and let us fend for ourselves.”
When the storm hit, the foreigners/TCNs were offloaded like ballast.
They were given absolutely no protection. They lost their jobs, they lost their homes, they lost their belongings, they lost everything they had put into Malta, including, if they were lucky enough to be on the books, the contributions they had made from the minimum wage salaries they were paid, for the 16-18 plus hour days they worked, keeping the country ticking.
When the tourists stopped coming, the TCN’s were sent packing, except they didn’t have much time to pack.
When lockdown was imminent, many of those were ‘let go’.
Being fired initially, early in COVID meant they had 10 days to find another job, with most termination letters stating the reason for dismissal as ‘insubordination’.
That insubordination tended to be “Why have you not applied for my work permit yet?”
Identity Malta is then informed, and the fastest correspondence a TCN ever gets from ID Malta is the ‘Go Back To Your Own Country Within 10 Days’ letter, unless another job is found, and if lucky enough to find another job, they need another €280.50 to file the application.
That’s more than one week’s wages to apply again and wait.
They also need a comprehensive health insurance policy, showing all aspects being covered, which supports the applicant in the eventuality of requiring any type of medical assistance or hospitalisation during the whole period of stay in Malta.
Meanwhile, the employers (large and small) can’t afford to wait for staff for over six months while ID Malta processes the application. No locals are going to work for the money on offer so the TCN employee is ‘gently’ convinced they will both benefit if they start working immediately under the table, with no protection, no pay slips, etc etc.
Most of this group of TCN’s were got rid of immediately after the pandemic broke out as they were not even on the books so would definitely not benefit from any COVID wage allowance.
Dozens of agencies throughout Malta supply staff like this to some 5* establishments. It is actually illegal for those employees to work without the work permit in hand – illegal for them to be employed during this time – but they do, as the work permit is so badly abused.
Be very aware that once an employee starts working like this, under the table, there is absolutely no rush on the side of the employer to chase the work permit application. The slightest little wrongdoing on the employee’s part and they will delay the application.
As they get close to the card being issued and contributions being paid, you would be amazed how many are ‘let go’ under some false accusation, because the employer can simply call ID Malta and withdraw the application and the employee has no right of appeal.
They can be replaced overnight by some other desperate worker.
Repatriation flights were organized and at one point Malta boasted 5000 plus ‘kindly’ being repatriated.
Repatriated with the clothes on their backs, the cash in their pockets, because you can be sure the claim for last week’s wages was not paid. The loss of their rental deposits, utility overpayments/deposits, furnishings, car, bike? How many of those are still racking up bills for the internet?
Social media was awash with desperate people attempting to sell personal and household belongings.
They had no option but to leave as landlords banged down the doors demanding rent payments they didn’t have. They were, for all intents and purposes, chewed up and spat out.
You know, it makes me laugh when I see comments regarding TCN immigrants, saying “Oh, but they have their mobile phones”.
People have no clue what it costs these people to come here and work their butts off for a pittance, so yes if they can afford the trip and all the money it costs them to get a job, then yes they are going to have a cell phone.
If anyone should feel abandoned (Adrian Delia), it is those workers who built tourism in Malta from pure hard graft and were kicked out when the going got tough.
So what’s the answer?
Employers should pay the application fee if they need staff.
Employees should pay for the health and medical certificates.
All terminations must be interviewed in person within 10 days.
Spot checks on illegal employers and special hotlines, where these people can get help, without being told to seek legal advice.
Employees must send quarterly pay slips to ID Malta showing contributions and legal deductions in line with employment law.
That might just stop the abuse of the work permit and those workers who only want to make a decent living.
Cover photo: A group of third-country nationals sent back to their countries of origin after police found them to be staying in Malta beyond the validity of their authorisation (Photo: Malta Police Force)
Patricia Graham is an activist specialising in tenants’ rights
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