Enrolment in the Community Workers Scheme (CWS) hit a new high during the recent election as some 200 jobless people were added to a temporary program intended to retrain the long-term unemployed.
The latest figures published in parliament in response to a parliamentary question by Gozitan MP Chris Said revealed that 1,200 people are now benefitting from the scheme, twice as many as were enrolled when it began in 2015. More than 44% are residents of Gozo.
The scheme was introduced by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana in 2015 when he was CEO of Jobs Plus, with the goal of ‘training the long term unemployed find productive employment’.
Some 600 jobless people were transferred from the unemployment register to the CWS and given a full-time salary performing odd jobs at government schools, local councils and NGOs with little to no supervision.
Caruana had said the scheme was temporary and was designed to end when all those put on it found new jobs. Instead, the opposite happened.
An NAO report found that little or no training was provided, and that those working there have no real incentive to find alternative employment.
Although the financial compensation hovers around minimum wage, the ‘unofficial’ conditions allow ample time for beneficiaries to make an extra buck.
It’s an open secret, particularly in Gozo, that those on the scheme are present for a fraction of the 40-hour week they’re supposed to be working, and some don’t turn up at all. Many spend their time on private jobs such as home maintenance and construction, earning an extra often undeclared income on top of their monthly taxpayer-funded cheque.
Because the scheme is run by a General Workers Union foundation, which was given a multimillion euro government tender to administer it, the NSO classifies these jobless people as gainfully occupied in the private sector, allowing the government to boast that Malta has the lowest unemployment figures in the EU.
This CWS is costing taxpayers an estimated €20 million per year, with the GWU taking a cut in the form of management fees paid by the government for every member on the scheme.