SME Chamber

Its jobs that matter, stupid

Prime Minister Dr Lawrence Gonzi is correct to state that the top priority of all Government action is work. Jobs don't grow on trees. It is hard to establish an enterprise, whether large, medium or small, and during a period of economic recession it is extremely important that we do not allow any of our enterprises to go under. To be honest I am not convinced that this conviction is paramount in an equal manner in the minds of all Ministers, senior bureaucrats and Chairmen of all corporations and state authorities. I wish it were. My life as Director General of GRTU would be much easier. It would be much easier for me to convince all these decision makers to change certain plans and decisions. It is worthwhile therefore to explain what lies behind a "jobs first" strategy.

The economy is not an end in itself. The European project has always had a social dimension. The goals of great European achievements like the Single Market and the single currency had always the added value for the citizens by stimulating the economic development and creating more employment in an increasingly globalizing world.

The creation of new jobs is a core priority. Only if we manage to reach a high level of employment, will we be able to safeguard prosperity for everyone and assure the future of our social security systems in the context of demographic change. It is our duty to care for good working conditions and for reliable social security systems. Under current economic strains what has been achieved so far is under treat and what Malta is succeeding to do is remarkable.

We are on a case by case basis succeeding to support leading enterprises to maintain their level of employment and the current level of conditions even though at a heavy expense. It would be easier for us to be able to achieve greater success if all of us out our efforts together. It is not correct to instigate people to protest on issues of minor importance when all our efforts should be geared towards one important growth: job support and job creation.

No-one should be held back and no-one should be left behind. We need to invest in education, life-long learning and employment to create opportunities for all, including employees, youth, newcomers and partially disabled persons. Everybody is entitled to income, work and an old age pension. This becomes increasingly a challenge as rising prices for food and energy particularly affect people with lower incomes as well as the unemployed. The social security systems should on the one hand help those in need by applying the principle of solidarity and on the other hand have a stimulating element for unemployed to enter the labour market.

In order to promote employment, we need also to focus on establishing direct and concrete measures which will encourage the creation of new business. This by easing the administrative burden on start-ups, simplifying the regulatory environment, reducing the general level of taxation, improving access for new enterprises to sources of finance, particularly risk capital, and promoting a more entrepreneurial culture.


Reconciliation of Family and Work Life

At present European citizens face major difficulties in reconciling their work and family life. For many parents, especially for women, finding the balance between high qualification, career success and their wish to raise a family, is very difficult to achieve. Family friendly policies that improve flexibility for working parents have to be introduced and our educational systems and work patterns have to be more flexible in order to support them.

The importance of supporting family life should be prioritized in policies such as education, employment, transport, health and inclusion of young people. Furthermore, better child care and housing policies have to be provided and parental leave for both working parents has to be encouraged.

Responsibilities need to be shared between the state and private industry. It should be our priority to establish more children-friendly societies by: improving the availability and access to childcare facilities, creating better financial conditions for young couples (through more effective family welfare allocations), family-friendly fiscal policies, and the reduction of social security contributions for parents with disabled children.

The private sector on the other hand can help by supporting young people's entrepreneurship and provide more flexibility with respect to working time, look for new ways in the career planning of its workers, especially of female workers, and guarantee sufficient child care facilities within the working place.

The Elderly

Elderly workers are also particularly affected by either unemployment or labour market inactivity. A greater participation of these categories in the labour market should be encouraged. The participation of people aged over 65 in the economic and social fabric must be promoted as an opportunity and not presented as a constraint. Flexible retirement must be encouraged and those who are still fit and willing to work should do so even after their official retirement age.

Education is a key response. Higher levels of education are associated with significantly higher employment rates and much lower unemployment rates. Life-long learning is especially important as early formal education may not suffice on its own to meet the challenges posed by technological change and globalization. We also need to facilitate training and learning of IT skills and computer knowledge for people of all ages.

Employment Support

It is all employment related. Once jobs a threatened the whole structure falls to pieces. That is why I find it extremely hard to understand why the labour party continues to fail to prioritise during such an economic situation job maintenance and creation in Malta. It is so easy to grumble, protest and fail to prevent alternative solutions. Ensuring that jobs are safeguarded should be the priority of all of us; employers associations, trade unions, civil society NGOs and Government. Investing up to 1.5% to 2% of GDP in sustaining those firms that may in the short term fail to live through the recession, is not only acceptable, but essential.

Firms will not go through the recession without support. Whether support through fiscal incentives, cash flow support or direct financial assistance, the whole structure must be supportive of enterprise. We cannot really afford to waste out time and energy arguing about minor issues. Malta is too small an economy to live through a period of heavy job losses. Our social fabric is too closely knitted not to have serious repercussions all around. A jobs sustaining action programme is a must and it is our duty to keep supporting all those who clearly see this as the nation's top most priority.



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