[Minimum] Discrepancies

Somewhat of an uproar has been caused by the recent PL declarations on the minimum wage. I use the terms "somewhat" specifically and "uproar" loosely because I am not entirely sure whether this particular round of annoying electoral propaganda and spinning is on everyone's minds to be quite honest. Nonetheless, terms like "wage-freeze" and "wage-gate" have been banded about bringing to mind a dark atmosphere of foreboding. The heinous and unspeakable crime? Joseph Muscat and his Labour Party have declared that, should they be elected in government, they will not increase the minimum wage but will reduce utility tariffs. Whatever the case, how interesting it is to see how easily people forget and how convenient convenience has become. 

First let us begin with the deeply-rooted notion that "MuscatPL" has established a political philosophy grounded in populism, a.k.a. "being everything for everyone". I wonder now whether such arguments may still be made by those whose sole agenda is driven by a personal hatred for the man. If Muscat is purporting to be everything for everyone would it not be rather obvious to advocate an increase in the minimum wage (or the establishment of the so-called 'living wage') for workers and, simultaneously, a reduction in utility tariffs for businesses end employers? For better or for worse, Muscat - and by extension the PL - have changed their minds and ditched the living wage proposal. Truth be told, this was never set in stone. In fact a timesofmalta.com article dated 18 November 2010 reports Musact telling employers [on the living wage]: 

"I am here with an idea and an open mind, asking you to join forces with me. I am ready to change my position as long as you too are prepared to shift yours towards the common goal of raising living standards."

But alas, it is very convenient to twist facts and to spin isn't it? 

Secondly, let us take a look at "MuscatPL's" policies on fiscal responsibility. Of course, Muscat and his party are the most fiscally irresponsible people on earth and should never be trusted. They want to take us back to "Mintoffianeconomics" coupled with wage-freezes, dire poverty, hunger and bailouts. Now here is MuscatPL, prepared to pursue a core party policy (reducing utility tariffs)  by sacrificing an increase in the minimum wage for the time being. The idea is obviously to boost the economy by lowering recurring business expenditure and, consequently, to lower the cost of living which has catapulted in recent years. This can reap beneficial rewards such as boosting the tourism and manufacturing industries and increasing employment. Now I am no economist, so I cannot say with any scientific precision whether this will work out in the long-term. But do you remember how often you used to ask MuscatP: "How?" Well here is just one answer. But alas, MuscatPL is still irresponsible. In the euro-crisis MuscatPL should have lowered utility tariffs AND raised the minimum wage. That would have been the more responsible route, surely. Speaking of crises...is Malta now not part of the euro and the rest of the world? I would like to know how it isn't all of a sudden. For while other countries are bludgeoning their populations with punitive austerity we are taking Muscat to task for not increasing the minimum wage.

Thirdly, I cannot fathom how we can so easily equate Malta with the Scandinavian countries. I'd love for Malta to become more Scandinavian, mind you. Excellent wages and the best social-safety net in the world. A quasi-socialist and liberal utopia. Leaving aside the fact that such countries impose heavy taxes on the rich and big corporations (50% +), they also have something that we surely do not: resources. Can you envisage, for instance, a flourishing oil industry in Malta? Or arms manufacturing? Car manufacturing at best but from where do we get the raw materials? And you know what? None of the nordic countries have a statutory minimum wage. Neither do Italy, Germany and Austria. The United Kingdom adopted the minimum wage in 1998 - not in the 70's. All minimum wages in these countries are regulated by collective agreements. Read here

Fourthly, it is interesting to see how we expect Labour to be a fully-fledged workers' party but to simultaneously move on with the times. True, the working-class struggle has been rekindled of late (assuming that Malta is part of the world that is) but I cannot understand how we expect PL to burn all bridges and become the arch-enemy of both business and employers and yet remain modern and mainstream. Please tell me which modern European socialist-democrat party speaks only in terms of working class -vs- bourgeoisie. I even doubt whether the most radical Greens and committed but forward-looking European Communists in the vein of GUE/NGL adopt such attitudes.  Like it or hate it, the fact of the matter is that PL is not only a government in waiting but has also to be seen as a government in waiting and not a radical left-wing party with nothing to lose. Like it or hate it incentivising business and investment can also benefit the working class. 

Now here's a little twist. Truth be told, I'm no major fan of this policy even though I do believe we need to tackle cost of living and energy poverty seriously. It has a "trickle-down" tinge to it which tends to put me off. I am also a firm believer in the idea of spending more - not less - as a means to boost the economy. But sometimes the world does not work this way. You can never get exactly what you wish for and in life you have to compromise. Yet I've had enough of all the lies and spin; the propaganda and the mediocrity. Why can't we criticise maturely and without hidden agendas? Why can't criticism in this god-forsaken country be intelligent and not tainted by agendas, whether political or simply personal? And why does it have to be so childish? Beppe Fenech Adami took Muscat to task for not suing Maltatoday for libel for being the first paper to report that PL will not increase the minimum wage. Did it also say that Muscat intends to adopt a wage-freeze and deny COLA-increments? How low can you go? 

With the elections round the corner, the PN has just announced a lucrative public-sector wage increase (including pensions...even though government has been berated time and time again on pension reform) and I bet my bottom cent that if they actually do go for a budget they will implement an increase in the minimum wage believing that this will be a 'political coup'. I just wonder if there will be anyone who has no axes to grind or not blinded by partisan tribalism who will dare to ask: where are you going to get the money from and how will it affect our public finances? But I forget. Such questions are only reserved for MuscatPL. 

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One Response to [Minimum] Discrepancies

The Malta Pamphleteer said...

The Maltapamphleteer echoes some of the sentiments you express here and would value your reflections on a number of issues.

Here is an invitation


With apologies for the somewhat random inclusion and with thanks.

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