Gozo Bishop Anton Teuma’s recent slamming of the culture in Gozo in which hundreds of people are placed on the state payroll but rarely show up for work stems from the unprecedented levels of political nepotism witnessed on the island over recent years.
In an unusual no-holds-barred homily in Ghajnsielem last Sunday, Teuma highlighted the alarming situation in Gozo by telling the congregation, “Those who are being paid without going to work or are either spending just a few minutes there before leaving to conduct their own personal business are taking something that is not theirs and they are giving their families bad examples.”
He insisted that remuneration should be accompanied by productive work and that anything else is tantamount to theft.
6,000 Gozitans directly employed by government entities
Research conducted by The Shift based on Gozo labour market statistics shows a marked increase in the number of Gozitans drawing a salary from the state coffers in recent years.
According to the latest figures published by the c, one out of every three gainfully occupied workers in Gozo, or 35.5 per cent, is directly employed by the public sector, in particular by the Gozo Ministry and its satellite offices.
Thousands more are on the books of private companies that depend on government tenders and direct orders to supply services in Gozo.
At the same time, around 500 workers are on the Community Work Scheme, which is meant to train the unemployed for work in the private sector but which has instead become another de facto employment agency.
According to the latest published figures, the Gozo Ministry alone has some 300 workers from the scheme on its books. Many others are seconded to Gozitan local councils and NGOs.
For example, Ghasri, one of the smallest villages in Gozo, has twice as many workers allocated through the scheme than St Paul’s Bay, the country’s most populated local council area.
While regional statistics on Gozo’s labour market are scarce, National Statistics Office figures show that by the end of 2020, almost 6,000 of the 16,000 gainfully occupied residents of Gozo worked directly for the government.
This excludes hundreds more who are classified as working for the private sector but who provide services for the government through direct orders distributed by the Gozo Ministry.
These include hundreds of security personnel for Gozo Channel, hospitals, residences for the elderly and many others.
Those under the Community Work Scheme are officially classified as being private sector employees since they are technically employed by a General Workers Union foundation that manages the scheme on behalf of the government through a highly profitable contract.
Sources close to the Gozo Business Chamber told The Shift that it is unofficially estimated that half of those in full-time employment in Gozo are working either directly or indirectly for the government.
The significant increase of Gozitans on the state payroll is also evidenced by another set of National Statistics Office figures on the number of Gozitans who commute for work in Malta.
The figures show that while 542 Gozitans travelled to Malta daily for public sector jobs in 2013, that number had almost tripled to 1,379 by 2021.
Jobs for votes
While the dependency of Gozo’s labour market on government employment has always been significant, political developments in recent years have exacerbated the situation.
Gozo Business Chamber officials who spoke to The Shift on condition of anonymity said it has now become customary for private sector employees to resign during electoral campaigns after having suddenly found a government job.
“While this, although to a lesser degree, also happened under the Nationalist Party, Labour has made the situation a lot worse, not only by trying to curry as much political favour as possible among the electorate but also because of the fierce rivalry between three Gozitan ministers who are all vying for the same votes,” a senior official said.
“I think that having a Gozitan minister is already problematic, let alone when you have three,” another official said.
In addition to Gozo Minister Clint Camilleri, the other two Gozitan MPs – Anton Refalo and Jo Etienne Abela – were also made ministers by Prime Minister Robert Abela.
Given the subsequent shortage of local workers, Gozo’s private sector is also becoming dependent on cheap imported labour.
According to official figures, the number of non-Maltese participating in Gozo’s labour market reached 20 per cent in 2020, compared to a mere 1.6 per cent in 2015. It is now estimated that some 8,000 non-Maltese citizens are living in Gozo.