Over 40 delegates from across Europe took part in this year’s conference themed the Impact of the new active labour market policy in Europe. The event held at the Cavalieri Art Hotel in Spinola, St Julian’s between 1st and 2nd December, was organised by UHM Voice of the Workers, with the support of EZA (European Centre for Workers’ Questions).

Finance and Employment Minister Clyde Caruana who delivered the opening address event spoke on the importance of investment in human capital. Asked on government’s plans to improve the work-life balance, he insisted that the ‘2nd leap’ (with reference to the second labour market policy launched last year until 2031) would have to be based on better productivity.

“We can only aspire to ideas such as reducing the 40-hour week as was done in the Netherlands if we raise productivity as otherwise this would not be sustainable,” he said.

In his address he said the ‘first leap’ was done a decade ago, when the UHM had presented the first active labour market policy, which was subsequently taken onboard by the two main political parties. The finance minister pointed out that thanks to this policy, the Maltese labour market underwent a transformation with a dramatic rise in employment especially females and those who had been inactive for a long time. Measures like free childcare, tapering of benefits and in-work benefits were crucial.  The seminar also focused on the proposal of mandatory trade union membership with UHM CEO Josef Vella calling for the introduction of such measure for low-income workers.

“Employees will still be free to enrol in the union of their choice or else pay the equivalent for the membership fee in a special training fund, given they would benefit from better conditions as a result of a collective agreement negotiated by the union,” Vella said.

“Such measure aims to serve as an insurance policy for workers who are vulnerable to exploitation, who would otherwise face a backlash should they come forward to flag the abuse.”

The two-day event also tackled issues related to foreign workers and third-country nationals especially exploitation and abuses, which in certain cases point towards human trafficking. Josef Vella remarked that as long as the Maltese economy will keep encouraging the existing economic model based on cheap labour through the recruitment of third-country nationals, we can never aspire to improve productivity and hence, better our work-life balance

Other issues on the agenda of the conference were vocational training, the upskilling of the workforce and initiatives on how to boost inclusion of disabled persons in the labour market.

Meanwhile, UHM is already planning for the 2023 conference which will be themed on adequate minimum wages.