Prime Minister calls for minimum wage talks
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat yesterday called for talks between employers, unions, government and civil society to start talking about the adequacy of the minimum wage and whether it still serves its aims.
Speaking at a political activity yesterday morning in Vittoriosa, Dr Muscat stressed that there would need to be a consensus on any such talks in order to move forward.
“The time has come to see where we want to head. Until there is agreement, government will not say there is no agreement and those on minimum wage remain where they are. We are saying there is no agreement yet we will still help you move forward”.
He said that three and a half years ago, the deficit was exploding, there were high energy prices that people couldn’t afford, high income tax, where those on the minimum wage were not receiving any help, where there were no incentives for those on benefits to start working, and where the economy was stagnant.
“We promised we would change the direction. There were those who said that there was nothing that could be done to better the situation, that we should live with mediocrity. Instead of listening, we told the people that we were not satisfied with the situation, while they would complain about taxes, about high fuel prices, would say there is nothing we could do. We told the people to trust in us, so that we can show them things can be different. Our standards are based on success, not mediocrity, on the idea that things could be much better than they were at the time.
“We were moving towards a situation where people would spend more than they earn. Their children would have dug a hole, covered in debt.
“We had a plan, to first stabilise the economy. If you don’t have a strong economy, what we announced in the budget would not have been able to occur.
“Now, like the tree that is bears fruit, we can share the fruit”.
Budget did not rob Peter to pay Paul
“The measures in the budget were not robbing Peter to pay Paul. We took from no-one, and gave to everyone. This is the difference with the previous government, which would take a lot and give just a bit.
“We have been, from the first budget, only giving. We took nothing from the people”.
The role of government is for everyone to move forward. “We are pro-business and everyone who works here depends, in one way or another, from others. So it never makes sense for those at the top to take a hit. But then again, a government that only thinks of those on top and ignores the middleclass and those below would not do well. Today, we live in a situation where those on top grew, the middleclass solidified and grew, and those at the bottom, who cannot work, we are saying it is our fault that you remain in poverty and this is why we are dividing the fruit”.
“We first thought of the those on the minimum wage, and through budgetary measures, they will have around €4 per week in their pocket, then there are those with a family who have €18 more per week in their pocket”.
He mentioned a proposal that was put forward by the General Workers Union, which was in the budget.
“Except for certain issues, we have removed precarious work from government. When there is a cleaner working with a contractor on government poverty, they are not paid on minimum wage. But now we are seeing that while government raised the wages, there are private employers who are not finding people to employ, and employ them through a contractor.
“Yet on one side you have someone employed in a factory paid €6 and next to her someone doing the same job, employed by a contractor paid just over €4. Employees working the same job on the same site with different wages. This is not acceptable. We need to start talking so that those who do the same job take the same wage”
He spoke of those on the minimum pension, who will receive €4 more a year. The most a pensioner can receive through a contributory pension is €13,000.
“The middle-class have not been forgotten in this budget. As an example, a pensioner who has the maximum pension, €13,000, today pays €585 tax per year. We have removed that tax”.
Turning to another sector of pensioners, those who don’t pay tax as they do not receive enough of a pension, Dr Muscat said, “We took this category of 9,000 people who are elderly persons living on a single minimum pension, and we helped”.
He quoted from the Caritas Director who was interviewed earlier this week on The Malta Independent’s interview programme, INDEPTH, as saying that the voice of those at risk of poverty is finally being heard through this budget.
He spoke about those who sacrifice their lives to take care of their parents and siblings. “These people aren’t doing it for money and they are saving taxpayer funds. We gave these people a €35 a week rise. We had no problem removing the means test. You have a right to be helped in caring for your parents.
“I am satisfied with the change we have made for persons with disability. There have never been as many persons with disability working as there are today”.
He said he wants Malta to succeed so everyone will move forward.
Modifying the disability pension
Parliamentary Secretary for Persons with Disability Justyne Caruana also addressed the event.
She spoke about spreading the benefits of the economy with everyone. Speaking about this budget, she said: “We made a decisive step to modify the disability pension, for those who cannot work to have a disability pension equal to the minimum wage”.
Turning to the day centres, she invited everyone to visit them. She said the PN left them in a bad state, and that this government will modernise them. She also said a new centre will also be completed.
She spoke of a new €1 million fund for persons with disability to participate in life in the context of inclusion.
“We are keeping our promises for a just society to succeed”.
Turning to the elderly, she said it was a Labour government who introduced pensions, “and it was the PL government who rose pensions”.
“Through this budget, there are new reforms and services for the elderly to live a quality life within the community. We also reformed community care. 70,000 persons a year utilise this service, and we have eliminated the waiting list”.
She also said that the meals on wheels waiting list will soon be no more.
She spoke about the St Vincent de Paule project that will increase beds and add services.
“We will introduce a bill in Parliament tomorrow, to strengthen the rights of the elderly and fight against abuse.
“This government has done a lot, but I look ahead positively with all the good we will do”.
Turning her gaze to the PN, she said they want to turn back the clock to pre-2013, to again have high energy prices, for pensions to be less favourable then today, where stipends do not rise with the COLA, where those who repeat do not receive the stipend, where the South was considered as second class.
Opposition Leader Simon Busuttil wants Gozo to be the third class, she said.
Cents for families, but Panama companies for the elite - PN
“Aside all of government’s attempts to give the impression that the budget is a social one, Maltese a Gozitan families, especially those in need, are realising that the budget for Muscat and his clique is different from the budget for families,” the PN said in a statement.
“While Dr Muscat speaks about cents for families, his Chief of Staff and favourite minister were caught with secret companies in Panama.
“While the energy minister tried to defend himself from the largest political corruption scandal in history, families keep paying high energy tariffs and fuel costs.
“The Prime Minister has yet to explain how and why the go ahead to open accounts in Panama was given just two days after Minister Mizzi signed the privatisation contracts for Karen Grech Hospital, St Luke’s Hospital and the Gozo General Hospital”.