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Social partners, political leaders, sign jobs declaration

Social partners and the heads of all three political parties this afternoon signed a declaration of intent towards pursuing active labour market policies as outlined by UHM's Jobs+ policy report.

The report notes that just 0.15 per cent of Malta's GDP is currently spent on policies aimed at expanding the workforce and ensuring workers are highly skilled and employable.

A proposal within the report calling for universal free childcare has received substantial media coverage over the past week.

The meeting was characterised by trade unionists and top politicians welcoming the consensus among social partners, with Prime Minister Lawrence Gonzi noting industrial disputes were at an all-time low and Labour leader Joseph Muscat saying the Malta Council for Economic and Social Development had "come of age".

Alternattiva Demokratika chairman Michael Briguglio also welcomed the report, although he insisted that raising the minimum wage would spur economic and social development and make work more attractive to those currently receiving social benefits.

UHM secretary general Josef Vella warned partners that although the existing consensus was encouraging, social partners faced a hard slog. "This is just the beginning, and I forsee many disagreements in the months to come. But we must continue to work towards consensual policies," he said.

Dr Gonzi predicted that new graduates, new women workers and an increase in those carrying on their work beyond their pensionable age would mean 25,000 new jobs would be needed over the next five years.

"Job creation is the crux of economic prosperity. Lose that and we lose everything," he warned.

Dr Muscat hoped the Jobs+ consensus would lead to MCESD adopting a more pro-active policy role, approaching the government with proposals rather than acting as a sounding board.

His hope was echoed by GRTU representative Paul Abela and by Michael Grech from the Gozo Regional Committee.

GWU secretary general Tony Zarb said the GWU was happy to work with UHM on this proposal, and indicated that unions had agreed to meet among themselves prior to MCESD meetings to try and reach a common position.

Both main parties' deputy leaders also spoke, with PN deputy leader Simon Busuttil noting that money had already been allocated to establishing an implementation committee for the Jobs+ policy during last November's budget, and PL deputy leader Louis Grech praising the report for its long-term focus and balance between competitiveness and worker's rights.

Joe Farrugia of the Malta Employers' Association said more work was needed now to flesh out the policy and agree upon tangible proposals which would suit the local labour market, while Paul Pace of FORUM insisted that while employability was important, workers deserved adequate financial compensation for thei upskilling efforts.

MHRA president Tony Zahra said corporate governance structures needed to be strengthened to ensure accountability at fiscal, managerial and programme implementation levels. He also wanted the private sector to get more of a say in policy decisions. "We are often just spectators, but we are this country's wealth generators," he said.

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