Opinion – ‘Too Many Racists in Malta’ – Former Maltese Minister
The incident earlier this week when a Gambian migrant worker, Lamin Jaiteh, was left in the middle of the street instead of being taken to hospital after he was injured on a construction site, has justly raised the hackles of a large number of people. He was not employed by a Good Samaritan, of course!
The uncomfortable truth, however, is not just that in Malta there are too many racists. The government’s policy in the treatment of illegal migrants is also to blame. When the state justice system punishes the evil perpetrator of this ghastly deed – as many expect – the case should not be considered closed and to be forgotten with other crimes that are ‘solved’ by the Police.
There are two kinds of illegal African workers. First are those that have arrived in Malta by boat. These are not allowed to work for some six months after they arrive. Then there are those who hold a pass issued by the Italian authorities and come to Malta by ferry from Sicily and are also technically not allowed to work.
Yet both types of migrants, in fact, find people who can give them work and are illegally employed. The construction industry is full of them. But these migrants also find work within the agricultural sector as can be seen in many fields both in Malta and in Gozo.
What is happening is that this policy is not solving anything but is giving rise to abuses with these migrants being forced to find illegal work where they are at the mercy of their ruthless employers.
This system is leading to a number of migrant workers that work without the cover that the state gives to workers who are legally registered as employed, and declare their income for tax purposes, whatever their nationality. It is the fear of the employer that he will be get caught illegally employing an African for whose safety he was – in any case – responsible that led to the vile action of leaving the wounded man lying in the street.
This action could never be justified, whatever the circumstances, and one hopes that the contractor who did it gets his just dessert.
But, here there is also the responsibility of the state that imposes regulations that unemployed migrants with no source of income are lured to breach.
When the state justice system punishes the evil perpetrator of this ghastly deed – as many expect – the case should not be considered closed and to be forgotten with other crimes that are ‘solved’ by the Police.
First of all, inspections on building sites and in agricultural areas should be stepped up. I personally meet many migrant workers on building sites – some are legally employed, others not so. Yet, Jobsplus and the Department of Labour are hardly doing anything about the illegal workers.
The government should eliminate those regulations that lead to so many migrant workers not being able to be employed legally as these are leading to so many abuses (and excuses), not only in the physical sense, as in this case. The authorities must ensure that there is no regulation that prohibits migrants from working legally – as is the system whereby migrants can stay in Malta but cannot earn their living, even though they have nothing to do.
There might be some who think that we ‘don’t need’ these workers and that they should go ‘back to their country’, but such racist sentiments are not even supported by the basic way Malta’s economy works.
I cannot resist referring to what is happening in the UK where the lack of foreign workers is leading to shortages and financial disasters, thanks to those who were in favour of Brexit because ‘foreigners’ were ‘taking’ the jobs of Britons.
Now they are finding that there are no Britons who want to take the jobs that foreigners used to do! This week, the chief executive officer of Next warned of possible further supply-chain problems in the run-up to Christmas if the UK does not relax some post-Brexit immigration rules and allow more overseas workers.
In Malta, we have recently found out that the number of foreigners working in Malta did not substantially decrease during the pandemic. This is misleading in that this refers only to those who were legally registered to work in Malta and paying their NI contributions and taxes. Those who were left out on a limb were mainly those who were not legally working.
Now that they are returning to work, their status should no longer be hanging in mid-air and their employment should be regularised. They will then become contributors to our economy, rather than an unnecessary weight.
And the irrational laments of the racists among us should be ignored.
The Author, Michael Falzon is a former government minister who served under several Nationalist administrations.
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