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Moving from energy to equality

Party would update social security laws

A Labour government would strengthen Malta’s equality commission and update social security laws to further promote gender equality, party leader Joseph Muscat said yesterday.

The PL would also make the Government more representative by ensuring more women were appointed to its boards, Dr Muscat said. He added the PL’s electoral programme would include “an entire chapter” discussing gender equality measures.

“Social security laws are based on families in which the male was the sole breadwinner. That is often not the case anymore and we need to address that,” he said.

The National Commission for the Promotion of Equality also needed greater powers to implement equality measures and provide redress when discrimination had occurred, he added.

Dr Muscat was speaking during a televised interview on One TV. Having started off discussing equality proposals, discussion soon veered to the party’s energy plans (see box).

Earlier in the morning, Dr Muscat had said he would still field questions on the subject, but the party wanted to “move on” from its much discussed energy plans and start unveiling other electoral proposals. These included proposals about workers’ rights – with a specific focus on those in precarious work – and ways of integrating women into the workforce, he said.

He called on the Government to share the findings of two international education standards reports, which he said were sent to the Education Ministry more than a month ago.

Both reports – the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study, or TIMMS, and the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study, or PIRLS – had “very interesting” things to say about primary students’ reading, maths and science skills, Dr Muscat claimed.

The studies’ 2011 findings show Malta ranks just below average in mathematical achievement, with Kazakhstan just above it and Norway immediately below. Literacy levels are of greater concern, with 2011 PIRLS data showing that Maltese primary children have literacy skills “significantly lower” than the study’s centre point.

The next round of TIMMS and PIRLS assessment is not scheduled until 2015. It is not known if Dr Muscat was referring to these – freely downloadable – results, with a question to a PL spokesman requesting clarification going unanswered. The Education Ministry denied concealing the reports and pointed out these were published online.

It also referred to a ministry statement issued on December 12, the day after the reports were issued, that mentioned the results achieved by Maltese students.

Labour had access to these reports, as was evident in two Labour press conferences.The Education Directorate was analysing the reports. There would be discussions with teachers and stakeholders to see what had to be improved and how teachers could be helped, the ministry said.

Dr Muscat insisted voters had nothing to fear from an eventual change in government.

“We are not an experiment, we are a credible alternative. Even those who won’t vote for us can sleep easy, bec-ause we want a government for all.”

Energy Talk

Labour’s energy proposals do not exclude the mooted gas pipeline being built eventually, Dr Muscat said.

“One does not exclude the other. We will still be pursuing the pipeline proposal if and when EU funding becomes available,” he said.

He had little time for claims that Labour’s proposals would mean Malta was generating too much electricity relative to its needs.

“EU guidelines explicitly state that a country should have energy reserves double that of its largest unit, and we expect the economy to grow. The PN’s own energy policy raises the possibility of building a second interconnector, when they haven’t even built the first. And it also mentions having a gas terminal,” he told journalists in Senglea.

Later, Dr Muscat returned to energy proposals: “If there’s consensus on one failure of this Government, it is definitely energy. They have no credibility in this sector.”

He argued that in 24 hours the PN “said [utility] bills couldn’t be reduced. Then they called our plans the ‘gimmick of the millennium’. Third, the Prime Minister suddenly said they would reduce bills too, and now they’re saying our plans are doable, but not within the proposed timeframes and budgets.”

“People see through ridiculous claims,” he said, refering to Finance Minister Tonio Fenech’s comment that gas tanks in Marsaxlokk would be like residents living next to a “bomb”. “Perhaps Mr Fenech is implying the planning authority issued permits for a time bomb in Qajjenza or Bengħajs a,” he said. Both have housed gas storage facilities.

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