Unions and employers say no to minimum wage raise
Both groups react to pledge by Labour leader Joseph Muscat
Its is a given that employers would back a pledge not to increase the minimum wage, but yesterday even unions gave their support to the Labour Party’s commitment should it be elected to govern.
They were reacting to a statement by Labour leader Joseph Muscat, who said his government would not increase the minimum wage but would instead take other measures to address related problems, including up-skilling and increasing employability.
General Workers’ Union general secretary Tony Zarb, whose union proposed a revision of the minimum wage in its pre-budget document, said any measure that improves the standing of those earning the minimum wage was acceptable to the union.
“The GWU agrees with anything which would improve the position of those who earn the minimum wage, such as the promise to reduce the water and electricity bills that are crucifying everyone, especially low-income workers,” he said.
But it was not only the GWU – Labour’s traditional ally – which supported the pledge. The Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin said it favoured more measures to make work pay rather than impose new mechanisms that could distort the labour market.
General secretary Josef Vella said the union would like any salary raises to come from increased productivity rather than by raising salaries artificially.
“Increasing the minimum wage for the sake of increasing it would not achieve anything,” he said, adding that one should also look at why people were earning just the minimum wage.
He said it was either because their employers were abusing of the system or else because they really had no skills.
“We want any government to invest in improving their skills so they can move on and improve their working conditions and their wage.
“This is all about the concept of giving someone a fish every day or else giving him a fishing rod and teaching him how to fish,” he said.
The Malta Employers’ Association said that raising the minimum wage beyond what the labour market can afford could result in job losses or an increase in the black economy.
“We want a minimum wage that is enough to sustain people but not drive people out of a job.
“This is the balance that needs to be struck. We need to shift the focus to driving people out of low-paid jobs into jobs that pay better. Education is key to achieving this,” director general Joe Farrugia said.
The Chamber of Commerce, Enterprise and Industry believes the minimum wage cannot be treated in isolation because it risks blocking the relativity of wages.
“We have always been against increasing the minimum wage because there are other ways to solve the problems faced by minimum wage earners,” director general Kevin Borg said.
He added that the country must ensure the productivity and competitiveness side of the economy is retained so the safety net remains sustainable.
“Education is important, not only in terms of schooling but also teaching people how to use their money judiciously,” he said.