Maltese business chiefs have sounded the alarm over the urgent need for broad consultation with the industry as the government is still unclear on how it will regulate temping agencies to prevent the exploitation of mainly third-country workers.
In an address on the Labour Party’s One Radio on 3 September, Prime Minister Robert Abela said the government would introduce legislation to “incentivise serious agencies” and curb “those who exploit their workers”, failing to mention details on how this would be achieved.
The Shift reached out to stakeholders who said there had been no consultation.
Malta Employer’s Association Director General Joseph Farrugia told The Shift that temping agencies in their current form are addressing a need which has emerged from the mushrooming of “low-value jobs” on the local job market.
“There’s a clear distinction between regularising temping agencies and limiting the influx of third-country nationals – one does not mean the other,” he said.
The prime minister’s comments followed an admission by Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri that the government was undertaking “a concerted effort to limit the population growth” through limits on non-EU nationals.
In his radio address, the prime minister said the government would “incentivise those agencies which are serious while those agencies who only wish to capitalise on the backs of workers have reason to worry”.
Malta Employer’s Association Director General Joseph Farrugia said in reply to questions from The Shift, “The government needs to be clearer in distinguishing what is serious and what’s not. We need clear criteria”.
He said the government is still unclear on what kind of legislation it intends to introduce. As a starting point to tackle local exploitation issues, he was clear that “the government can do better in ensuring that applications are approved for job vacancies that actually exist.”
While the government remains unclear on its proposals, the prime minister said during the ‘interview’ on its Party’s station that the legislation is at “an advanced stage”.
President of the Chamber of Small and Medium Enterprises Paul Abela told The Shift that “such a policy change cannot be done from one day to the next,” adding that a “discussion with industry stakeholders is a must.”
Abela said that legislative changes, “which could impact the entire basis of our current economy,” must be done “holistically and with rigorous research beforehand,” adding that “any government incentives for these businesses should first be reviewed through wide consultation”.
The Shift recently reported how Malta’s economy increasingly relies on imported low-pay foreign labour.
Figures provided by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana showed that most non-EU workers brought to Malta – primarily by temping agencies – are paid rock-bottom wages. Compared to the rapidly increasing cost of living, these put them at an increasing risk of poverty.
The push for better legislation and enforcement comes amid growing concerns about conditions for third-country workers. As of June 2022, there were over 50,000 declared non-EU workers, not including thousands more who work off the books.
Of those ‘on the books’, many employed through agencies, over half earned under €10,000 a year and some 11,000 workers made under €192 for a 40-hour work week.
Many third-country nationals have gone public about the exploitation they have faced at the hands of agencies, including the payment of exorbitant fees, verbal and labour law abuse, and paying thousands of euros to secure a job they later find does not exist.
Questions sent by The Shift to The Office of the Prime Minister and Economy Minister Clyde Caruana asking for more information on the promised upcoming legislation remain unanswered.