With foreign workers totalling almost 70,000 which is close to a third of the entire workforce, Finance and Employment Minister Clyde Caruana has floated to idea of introducing quotas to limit the entry of non-EU workers in Malta.

The announcement made during the unveiling of a public consultation process on a new 7-year labour market policy could mark a shift in government economic policy. In seven years of Labour government around 67,500 foreign workers entered the Maltese labour market.

Caruana who served as CEO of State agency Jobs Plus between 2013 and 2019 was the main promoter of such policy. While the government insisted it was crucial for the robust economic growth registered, the large influx of foreign workers came under fire for promoting cheap labour to the detriment of Maltese workers. UHM Voice of the Workers has been airing such concern for years, amid a worrying trend which was resulting in downward pressures on wages.

The idea of quotas for third country nationals was mooted during a business breakfast marking the launch of a public consultation process on this new policy which is planned to be unveiled in time for the 2022 Budget.

The government is now acknowledging that the “downward pressure they [third country nationals] put on salaries” is one of the main challenges which the new policy must address. Moreover, the impact which non-EU workers are having on the country’s infrastructure such as housing, education and healthcare, is also listed among the 12 main issues which need attention.

“Is it time to introduce quotas for third-country nationals?  Is it time, work permits are only issued for certain economic sectors or only within certain wage brackets? Is it time to issue work permits only if the employer has a minimum threshold of Maltese employees?” Caruana questioned.

The finance minister was keen to stress he was floating these ideas to stimulate the debate among social partners.  

“We must remain competitive but doing nothing is not an option,” Caruana warned.

In his address he acknowledged that Malta’s biggest challenge was the high number of workers having basic skills only who make up 36% of the Maltese workforce, which is more than double the EU average. This is why more must be done to train the Maltese workforce through the educational system, he said.

The consultation document outlines major economic indicators recorded between 2013 and 2019, prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic. These include the number of persons in employment who rose from 178,241 to 258,064.

Quality of life is in decline

During the debate, UHM Voice of the Workers CEO Josef Vella heaped praised on the government for the successes scored through the active labour market policy of which the union was the main promoter. However, he expressed concern that many households were not keeping up with the cost of living, despite both parents having a full-time job.

“Parents are having less time for their family, to the point that certain errands such as going to the supermarket are being done on Sundays. This is negatively impacting their quality of life and this policy should address this issue which is the source of psycho-social pressure for thousands of workers,” Vella said.