Sherlock Holmes investigates a case of vanishing workers
Many hopes were raised on the return to normality with the opening of the airport for travellers on 1st June. We expected a steady flow to resume but notwithstanding issuing of cash vouchers, numbers were not so encouraging and did not match pre-2019. Many have expected normality to grace our shores this summer and the fledging hospitality sector will bounce back into action.
Sadly, it looks, as if we are still not back to any normal lifestyle all the while election hysteria rages on, developing ever more fake news. The Delta variant is more transmissible than the pathogens that cause SARS, Ebola and smallpox, and as easily spread as chickenpox, quoting a presentation given by internal US Centers for Disease Control. Life must go on and we are advised to keep social distances and avoid crowds unless we wear face masks.
Moving on to the main topic of missing or vanishing workers, Sherlock need not labour too much to discover its origins. The political incumbent tries to recruit more soldiers of steel to join the bloated public service and win votes.
This corrupt practise is endemic in the local political system, (both parties practice it). Of course, it is the sin of political patronage which carries a heavy cost for the economy. It is equitable that our priorities for budgets planned in the next five years, have to repay the massive national debt buttressed in the fiscal battle against the pandemic.
Economists tell us we need a more hands-on-deck to fast grow GDP. Short-term electoral priorities are again taking precedence over longer-term objectives to the detriment of people’s well-being. Malta is greylisted by FATF yet it hopes to quickly regain the reputation it once enjoyed therefore a caveat on political patronage is a must.
Naturally, this is easier said than done as electoral pressure grows daily and political agents are busy looking to fill cracks in the system. One such example is the tender for the provision of evidence-based research and delivery of training for MCESD as part of the ESF Project – ESF.04.158. PKF Malta Limited was rated technically eligible and cheapest but was disqualified for no valid reason.
It is dissatisfied with the Evaluation Committee’s decision which blatantly ignored the second, third and fourth cheapest bids, and instead, the tender was bestowed not to cheapest (as per tender conditions) but to Idea Management Consulting Service (an outfit run by Silvio DeBono of MCAST fame) being the highest bidder. This does not bode well for MCSED in its drive as the ultimate stakeholder body to brighten our tarnished integrity as a grey-listed country.
Continuing on the main theme of the Covid menace, we remind ourselves of the success reached by China last year to combat the spread of the virus yet now it has not escaped the scathing effect of the Delta virus. China reported the fast-spreading Delta variant reached over 20 cities in more than a dozen provinces. It is lamentable how such a scenic spot of Zhangjiajie, the virus has resulted in a lockdown of all 1.5 million residents whereas Beijing has blocked tourists from entering the capital during the peak summer holiday travel season.
Upon happy reflection, locally the daily rate of infections has plateaued after the onslaught of higher social interactions during the national holiday in mid-August of St Maria. Locals still fear foreign travel so a good alternative to relax is booking a short sojourn at a private farmhouse with a pool in Gozo. Others with deep pockets enjoy sipping chilled wine on their yachts while sailing to nearby islands and feast in quality restaurants in Bella Sicilia.
All the while, political bigwigs surreptitiously embark on sailing holidays to maintain their sanity and relax with family and cronies. Next month, will see office staff returning from holidays to grace desks at offices while a few now opt to work from home. A moment of reflection is poignant to understand how successfully has been the remote working experiment for most white-collar staff. This led to the clocking of long hours, taking meetings on Zoom or Teams and keeping the cats fed - all the while finding time to drive children to summer school.
The public sector had reported good progress by its online workers to meet enhanced summer business exigencies and most worked diligently. The fly in the ointment since the opening of the tourist season is the unforeseen problem of missing workers. The Malta Employers’ Association is calling for the phasing out of the Community Work Scheme (run by JobsPlus in tandem with GWU) as it insists that a rising shortage of employees in Malta needs to be addressed with urgency.
It is a blessing that unemployment in Malta is presently low, and the number of registered unemployed has been falling steadily. According to the latest available figures, just 1,600 people were on the unemployment register. Could it be that the sudden shortage of workers can be attributed to a pre-election recruiting splurge?
A survey of the Malta Chamber of Commerce highlighted that 77 per cent of businesses reported having trouble finding workers, of varying skills, with operations being negatively affected as a result. The media is full of articles commenting on this phenomenon.
While Malta Enterprise boasts of having saved the jobs of over 100,000 workers (apart from 62k working for the state) yet the sudden disappearance of workers is an enigma. Some blame the cavalier way of shedding foreign workers at the start of the pandemic as most did not return. Commentators point to the scarcity of workers exacerbated by the dilemma of testing unvaccinated workers as a precaution prior to entering sanitized factory/office premises.
Perhaps this may lead to the quarantine of more workers and extended absence away from work. A blessing would be the return of normality, where skilled foreign workers return to roost. Only then, will Sherlock Holmes chide Watson on how elementary it was to solve the mystery of acute worker shortage?