Proposals from the Left - Michael Briguglio

The Times Wednesday, 5th March 2008


This electoral campaign is characterised by a variety of tactics by the four political parties. While these include constructive proposals on various levels, one can also observe negative campaigning. This includes scaremongering, playing around with the truth, labelling certain groups of people as criminal and, last but not least, resorting to cheap threats which are timed for electoral purposes.

It is a pity that the ideological backdrop of this electoral campaign is not being given the importance it deserves. After all, voters have the right to know what they are to expect from different political parties on a wide range of issues as well as the repercussions, positive or negative, of certain policies. At the same time, it is interesting to note that various civil society organisations from different walks of life have presented their proposals to the political parties.

Żminijietna - Voice of the Left has presented a number of proposals to the political parties. These are built on the principles of equality, social justice and sustainability.

With regard to the economy, a new government should urgently introduce measures to reduce the impact of economic burdens being felt in Maltese society such as the high cost of living. Though Malta has witnessed economic growth over the past years, policy in this area should also focus on equality. Wealth redistribution, progressive taxation and policies based on the importance of public services are essential in this regard. Policies are required through which workers' income is increased, both through fiscal policy as well as through wage increases, including the minimum wage and work on an hourly basis.

As regards work, Malta requires not only legislation but also proper enforcement to guarantee the rights and conditions of various categories of workers. Part-time workers, workers on contract, casual workers and workers forced to declare their status as self-employed should concretely benefit from the same rights as full-timers on a pro rata basis. The same should be said regarding private sector workers when compared to those in the public sector when it comes to various issues such as parental leave. Attention should also be given to particular groups of workers, including women, young workers and aging workers who frequently tend to be more likely to face unequal treatment, though this is of course illegal.

Industrial democracy is also required so that workers would really enjoy rights such as the faculty to join a trade union and to engage in industrial action. The industrial tribunal should be widened in scope, thus protecting the rights of all workers, irrespective of the sector they work in. It is also important to expand training facilities for different categories of workers in sectors that are facing problems. Such training should improve workers' skills and respect their dignity and not impose practices that are alien to workers' experiences.

Proper investment in health and safety measures is also required.

With regard to family issues, Malta requires progressive and inclusive social policy which caters for today's realities of different forms of families. Groups different from traditional families - such as those in cohabitation - should have legal rights as well as obligations towards those with whom they live. A process should be initiated whereby divorce is introduced in a responsible manner. In a few words, the family - whatever its form - should be protected from economic and social hardships which characterise everyday life. Education is another key issue in this electoral campaign. Beyond electoral rhetoric on repeaters and dates of exams, Malta requires increased investment in education, especially for the most vulnerable groups. It is a fact that notable improvements have been made in Malta's educational system and we should indeed be proud of various educational institutions that offer world-class education. Yet, at the same time, we are still placed in rock bottom positions in EU tables on areas such as youth participation in post-secondary education.

Above all, Malta requires a more comprehensive and life-long educational system. The introduction of colleges is a welcome improvement, yet, overall, our educational system is still based on the selective politics of streaming, thus resulting in many young people - especially from the working class - ending up without qualifications. Malta also requires more policies in favour of community involvement in socio-educational activities, thus increasing social capital.

Another important issue concerns the Maltese welfare state. The gains Malta made in this area should be protected and strengthened through a model of equality, social justice, efficiency and sustainability. The welfare state should not only be based on cash benefits, even though these are very important, but should also incorporate family-friendly work practices, investment in human resources and encouragement of initiative.
The Maltese welfare state also requires investment in accessible childcare centres and flexible working hours as a choice for workers because these ensure better balance between employment and family. State pensions should be guaranteed and should be equal for everyone by being based on citizenship rather than on previous income. Besides, Malta's national health policies should not result in a divide between those who can afford private health services and those who do not afford such services.

Housing is another area which deserves proper attention, especially since thousands of families are facing financial difficulties in coping with the ever-increasing costs. Our country requires politics which aim to reduce property speculation and which result in more affordable prices. Among other policies, this requires subsidies on loans for first-time buyers and more affordable social housing provided by the state, on a wider level. More liberalisation in the housing sector should not take place as this will result in problems and serious difficulties for thousands of families, especially since the national census shows that most persons living in rented properties are ageing. On the other hand, it is only fair to compensate owners of properties rented under the old rent laws.

It is positive that the environment has clearly become part of the national agenda. Yet, environmental policies are not mere technical exercises and are not free from ideology. If sustainability is to be tied to equality and social justice, a new government should adopt sustainable environmental policies which defend the common good while not resulting in more burdens on workers in the form of regressive taxes, unjust surcharges and other measures which increase inequality. Therefore, the provision of energy should remain centrally-planned and state-owned and should encourage clean, sustainable and affordable methods.

Investment in public transport should increase so as to make it more accessible, cheaper and more efficient.

The supply of land which allows ODZ development should be revised and reduced. Last but not least, politics which are based on full participation of civil society should be encouraged. Workers' unions, NGOs, constituted bodies, local councils, academics, professionals and other social groups have an important role to play in national fora. Democracy should be an everyday opportunity and not an electoral exercise.

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