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When Labour guarantees jobs

A party in opposition has all the time in the world to work on policy proposals that it would put forward as an alternative government. That the Labour Party has not done this for the past four years speaks volumes about the kind of alternative that it can guarantee. And when some proposals are made – often because their political dividends are too good to resist – they raise more questions than answers.

...you cannot guarantee jobs
- Simon Busuttil

First, Labour gave us the living wage proposal. But it burst at the first prick of a pin and we never heard anything about it ever again.

Then, it promised to reduce electricity bills. But, four years on, it has still not told us by how much it will reduce them and which taxes it will raise to make up for the lost revenue. Then, last November, Labour splashed a whopping 51 “proposals”. But the most intelligent of them promised that Labour would be “safe for business” and that it would “let the self-employed work”. They were quickly forgotten.

Now, after months of introspection, it came out with a youth guarantee that would “guarantee” education, training or a job for 16-year-olds. Yes, that’s right, a full guarantee. No questions asked and with no disclaimer. It’s like the ones you get with your washing machine.

Now, I am sure that you did not fall for this one. But just in case you were thinking of giving Labour the benefit of the doubt, let me invite you to think again.

First, the source.

True to style, Labour’s proposal is not original. It just copied it from the European Socialist Party of which it is a member. Which is fair enough, I suppose. At least, they get something out of their membership. But even the European Socialists are not original on this one.

The youth guarantee is, in fact, a proposal of the European Commission which, back in December, published a Communication on the Youth Opportunities Initiative. In it, the European Commission called on EU countries and labour market actors to “step up their efforts” and “do more... to implement a youth guarantee, ensuring that young people are either in a job, education or training within four months of leaving school”.

Last month, the Commission also announced that, by the end of this year, it will present a proposal for a Council recommendation on youth guarantees by the end of this year. Just last week, in the European Parliament, we overwhelmingly endorsed this call because we obviously agree that young people should have the best education, training and employment opportunities. So, along with my group, the EPP, I had no hesitation in voting in favour.

But, unlike all reasonable policymakers who put youth education, training and employment as a priority objective, Labour rushed headlong and committed itself to a watertight guarantee on jobs. It promptly put up billboards all over the island claiming that Labour would guarantee education, training... or a job.

The message is clear. It wants all youths to believe that, with Labour, they will be guaranteed a job. It can hardly be otherwise because education and training are already guaranteed. Let’s take them one by one.

On education, we already have a guarantee as solid as they come. With free education from primary to tertiary and with 20,000 graduates in the past four years alone, education is one area where the Nationalist government made a resounding success.

Still, a guarantee on education from a party best known for closing down private schools and removing stipends is a bit rich.

On training, it’s pretty much the same. In the last four years alone, a staggering 41,000 people benefitted from training schemes. And the dynamic Employment and Training Corporation has truly tried them all with its endless stream of schemes intended to get people into jobs. It did so also thanks to tens of millions of euros in EU funding.

That leaves the guarantee on jobs. Malta already has the sixth lowest unemployment rate in the EU. But I am the first to concede that the job is not done until there is not a single person willing to work who is still looking for one.

But, pray, a guaranteed job? And with whom?

Will Joseph Muscat do a Karmenu Mifsud Bonnici and engage all unemployed with the public sector? Or will Labour force the private sector to employ people? That’s not very safe for business, is it? How much will all this cost and who will pay?

It is the moment that you hit the “guaranteed job” that Labour’s guarantee starts to become ominously dangerous.

For, in an open market economy, you can strive to generate job opportunities – indeed, 20,000 new jobs were generated over the past four years alone. But you cannot guarantee jobs. Unless, that is, you want to drive the economy into the wall.

Quizzed by The Times on specifically this point, a spokesman for Dr Muscat promptly retracted: “There will be no ‘automatic’ employment in the public sector”.

That sounds even worse.

So there you go.

Labour’s jobs guarantee turns out to be one big menace for our economy. Or just one big gimmick.

For all our sakes, let’s hope it’s a gimmick.

[email protected]

Dr Busuttil is a Nationalist member of the European Parliament.

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