Nine years after piloting Malta’s first active labour market policy, UHM Voice of the Workers can look back with pride as this initiative was key for the country’s robust economic growth. A drastic increase in female participation rate, the introduction of free childcare services and record low unemployment levels are some key indicators of the success achieved.

However, the time is ripe to take stock of the situation as no policy is perfect despite all the good intentions behind it. An issue which is of concern is the challenge being faced by working parents to have some quality time together. While a statistical analysis of the current trends yields positive conclusions, UHM Voice of the Workers believes that the government, policy makers, and stake holders should look at the bigger picture. What about the quality of life? Unfortunately, the work-related pressures and commitments on working parents are taking their toll. This is manifesting itself in having to cram all housework and errands for the weekend. At this rate going to the supermarket might soon replace the traditional Sunday outing. What is even more worrying is that parents are facing Hobson’s choice – the alternative is working less to dedicate more time to the family at the risk of struggling to make ends meet.

The only sustainable way forward is a long-term plan whereby the primary objective will no longer be to increase the employment rate but better wages. This is not achieved by simply raising salary rates but through a new economic model which is no longer based on cheap labour and consumption. It is only when such stage is reached that parents could aspire and afford working on reduced hours.

The launch of the public consultation of a new labour market policy by the finance ministry is a golden opportunity to change direction and start addressing this issue. UHM welcome the emphasis being made on the need to up-skill and retrain the Maltese workforce and to address the lack of salary increases in specific economic sectors which is leading to a deterioration of the standard of living.

However, it is time for the government to put its money where its mouth is. The reliance on cheap labour using third country nationals is putting downward pressures on salaries. Furthermore, public spending on active labour market policies is going from bad to worse – from 0.15 per cent of GDP in 2010 down to 0.06 per cent in 2015 which was 13 times less than in Denmark.  The time is ripe to devote more resources for a better work-life balance.