The government has quietly changed the parameters of its Community Workers Scheme, also dubbed the ‘jobless scheme,’ to allow hundreds more workers to be put on the state payroll, funded by taxpayers’ money.
The revised parameters, which were changed secretly with no public statement being made, now essentially qualify all those who don’t have a job for whatever reason to be put on the government scheme, benefiting from a guaranteed minimum wage and a 40-hour week placement with a government department or entity.
According to Finance Minister Clyde Caruana, the brains behind the scheme when it was introduced in 2015, all those who are at least 24 years old and have not worked for the last 12 months can apply to be included in the scheme.
The same applies to all those over 50 who lose their jobs, and to all those over 24 who do not possess any post-secondary education.
Caruana’s announcement, made a few days ago in parliament, signifies a paradigm shift from the original scope of the scheme when introduced. Because of the new rules, what began as a one-off scheme intended to train the long-term unemployed to find alternative work placements in the private sector, has been turned into an opportunity for the government to enrol ever-increasing numbers of workers on the state payroll.
Just a few weeks ago, The Shift reported that in the few months leading to the election, some 200 additional workers were added to the scheme’s books, most of whom are from Gozo.
While when the scheme was introduced in 2015, it listed 580 workers on its books, by the last elections the number had swelled to 1,200, more than double the original amount.
At the same time, the government is frequently vociferous in taking credit for the low level of unemployment in the country, which is considered, statistically, to be one of the lowest in the EU.
More importantly, from a statistical point of view, all the workers enrolled in the scheme are being counted by the NSO as ‘productive’ workers in the private sector. They’re able to do so because the scheme is administered on behalf of the government by the General Workers Union. In compensation, the union is making millions of euros from the scheme each year in ‘management fees’, getting a commission for every worker that is recruited, and paid for by taxpayers.
In the run-up to the last elections, a number of government ministers used the scheme to give jobs to tens of workers through their intervention with the scheme’s administrator.
It is known that most of those on this scheme, given comfortable, easy jobs at schools, local councils and NGOs either don’t turn up for work except to sign in or leave after a few hours so that they can continue to work on the black market on odd private jobs such as the maintenance of private residences. Some even have a second, undeclared, job, mostly in the construction sector.
In 2015, when the scheme was launched, Clyde Caruana, then chairman of Jobs Plus, is on record saying that the scheme was a temporary initiative and would be wound down after a few years when all its members had been trained and found alternative private sector jobs.
This hasn’t followed through. Instead, the contrary has happened with the scheme appearing to have been converted into a de facto extra government agency putting unproductive workers on the government’s payroll.
It is estimated that some €20 million in taxpayers’ funds are being budgeted every year to maintain the scheme. As more and more workers are added, the millions squandered to keep the scheme and the GWU running continues to increase.