PL change of heart on ‘living wage’ proposal
The Labour Party has declined to elaborate on its change of heart concerning an increase in Malta’s minimum wage.
Last week, Joseph Muscat said it would be “irresponsible” to raise the minimum wage now, given the state of the local and international economy.
The position represents a significant shift from the Labour Party leader’s earlier calls for the introduction of a ‘living wage’ – a calculation of how much money a person needs to live a decent life – that would be significantly higher than the current minimum wage of €158 per week.
Precisely two years ago, at the height of the global economic downturn, Dr Muscat had spoken about the living wage in glowing terms, describing it as an “exciting new concept” that Malta would do well to introduce without delay.
A report by Church organisation Caritas released last March further fuelled calls for Malta’s minimum wage to be raised, with researchers finding the current level was not enough to ensure a decent standard of living.
The Caritas report estimated that breadwinners on the minimum wage needed an extra €1,600 per year to live a decent life, and called for it to be increased to €180 a week to make up for the shortfall.
At the time, Dr Muscat was careful not to tie himself to Caritas’ calls, saying it would be “useless” to raise the minimum wage without first cutting costs.
He has now cemented that position, saying that PL in government would help families on the breadline by reducing energy tariffs instead.
The Sunday Times asked the PL whether its proposals for a living wage had been scrapped, what had prompted the party’s change in position, when would an increase in the minimum wage be justified and how much of the Caritas-calculated €1,600 shortfall the party’s proposed reduction in energy tariffs would recoup.
A party spokesman said the PL’s stated position was “the best policy to ensure that a family’s income sustains its well-being,” given the current “and foreseeable” international economic scenario. Social partners, the spokesman added, agreed with the PL on the issue.
While both the General Workers’ Union and the Union Ħaddiema Magħqudin have backed the PL position, the Forum group of trade unions yesterday insisted Malta’s minimum wage remained inadequate.
Forum’s stand was commended by Alternattiva Demokratika. AD derided Dr Muscat for his recent comments, saying they were a betrayal of the working class.
“We remain shocked that Labour has now allied itself with the PN and big business in opposing such a basic policy for social justice,” AD chairman Michael Briguglio said.
With the Nationalist Party silent in the ongoing debate concerning minimum wage levels, AD’s stance makes it the only party in favour of a wage hike.
Malta has the EU’s 11th-highest minimum wage, which is far ahead of the €231 monthly benefit doled out in Lithuania but also lower than the sums paid in Cyprus and Spain.
Minimum wage levels in more established EU states such as the UK, France and Benelux nations remain a distant hope.