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President challenges Maltese on foreign labour: ‘Are we ready to do their jobs?’

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Ritratt: Miguela Xuereb

In a thought-provoking speech at the closure of the National Conference “The State of the Nation” 2024, President Myriam Spiteri Debono raised critical questions about Malta’s reliance on foreign labour and the readiness of Maltese citizens to fill certain job roles.

The President highlighted a crucial aspect often overlooked in discussions about multiculturalism and foreign workers. She stated, “I think one of the questions in this section should have been whether Maltese citizens are ready to do the jobs that we are currently relying on foreigners to perform.”

Spiteri Debono emphasised the importance of addressing this issue directly, particularly to those who view foreign workers as a burden. She explained, “They have not yet understood that our country’s affluence came from wider access to education and improved wages. Our children are not looking at certain sectors that don’t yet provide a certain standard of living.”

The President’s comments come in the wake of the State of the Nation survey, which revealed mixed feelings among Maltese citizens about multiculturalism and foreign labour. While over a third of respondents expressed discomfort with growing cultural diversity, a majority (54.6%) believed that employing foreign workers for jobs Maltese citizens are unwilling to do is a viable solution.

Spiteri Debono challenged the notion that certain types of work are beneath Maltese citizens, stating, “Our children today feel some work is below them – and I’m not saying this out of snobbery, it’s the reality. They expect this work to continue, but who will do it if our children have advanced beyond that kind of work?”

The Labour government has has based the booming economy on workers brought from all over the world, especially for low-paying jibs, as evidenced by the 107,406 foreign workers employed in Malta as of August 2023—a significant increase of 10,436 in just eight months.

In 2023, a staggering 1,695 Maltese companies were caught illegally employing migrants from third countries, according to figures revealed in Parliament last week. Critics argue the high number of companies violating existing regulations is just the tip of the iceberg, with many incidents of worker exploitation going unreported. 

The conference was also addressed by prime minister Robert Abela.

The President’s speech also touched on other critical issues revealed by the survey, including changing political loyalties, decreased interest in politics among young people, and the construction industry’s low ranking in perceived importance for Malta’s economic growth.

Political disengagement and abstentionism

The President expressed concern about political disengagement, particularly among young people. Referencing the survey results, she noted, “The part dealing with politics, particularly that in general it resulted that one third of the population does not care or care little about politics, should say and admit today, fifteen after the 8 June elections, that what the survey said was reflected in abstentions in the elections held fifteen days ago.”

Spiteri Debono described this trend as “very worrying,” stating, “He worries me why the very small size of our country has everything chain and I believe that no citizen can abdicate from his duty towards the collectivity of all citizens at once and take an interest and where he sees that things are not going well, he recommends and acts.”

The President’s concerns are backed by survey data showing a decline in interest in Maltese politics. In 2021, 48.3% of respondents thought politics were important, but that figure fell to 33.7% by 2024. Moreover, disinterest in politics has increased, with 31.3% of participants in 2024 expressing a lack of interest, up from 12.9% in 2021.

Youth engagement and political alternatives

Addressing the apparent disconnect between young voters and traditional political structures, Spiteri Debono asked, “What can we say, that third parties who did not vote or who show that they do not care about them are not satisfied with the two big parties? Are they looking for a new church or churches? How do young people in particular feel about this?”

She challenged political leaders to consider whether there is “sufficient synergy between the people and politics,” and if not, whether they are “prepared to see that everyone tries to give a voice, even if this requires changes to the country’s highest law?”

These questions are particularly pertinent given that the survey found people under the age of 25 are the least interested in politics, with only 17.3% seeing it as significantly important.

The President also touched on the complex issue of multiculturalism in Malta. While not directly quoting survey results, her comments reflect the mixed feelings revealed in the State of the Nation survey, where over a third of respondents expressed discomfort with the country’s growing cultural diversity.

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