On this year’s workers’ day, the Justice and Peace Commission wishes to express its concern regarding the injustice suffered by non-EU persons working in Malta who, despite paying National Insurance contributions, do not recieve a pension. Our current pension system relies on the assumption that non-EU workers will stay here for a few years, pay social insurance contributions and leave before receiving a pension. The Commission believes that the kind of society implied by this model is socially unjust and morally unacceptable.
Without any realistic possibility of making Malta their home, non-EU workers do not benefit totally from the fiscal social contract in which people pay tax and, in turn, receive public goods and services, including a pension. Specifically, in the absence of bilateral or EU-wide agreements with their countries of origin, these workers, once they return to their country of origin, can never expect any pension benefit in return for the National Insurance contributions they would have paid over the years. Moreover, despite contributing with their effort and money to the common good and the social and economic development of the country, they are often treated as a subservient underclass who never really belong.
Figures tabled recently in Parliament by Finance Minister Clyde Caruana show that National Insurance contributions by foreign workers increased by 570% from 2012 till 2021 to reach over €1 billion in total. Over the same time-period, these workers also paid over €1.3 billion in income tax with the yearly total increasing from nearly €48 million in 2012 to €250 million in 2021.
The economic “success” of our country and the sustainability of our social benefits should never be obtained at the expense of workers, whoever they are and wherever they come from. The more than 40,000 non-EU citizens currently working in Malta – 77% of whom were earning under €20,000 a year in 2021 – deserve to be treated with respect and dignity and not forced to work in an exploitative labour marked under conditions often akin to modern-day slavery.
As a country we need to question our definition of economic success. Last year, Pope Francis urged business leaders to measure success according to “the number of people who move out of extreme poverty” instead of “profits, expansion, and short-term and shortest-term results”. He also exhorted members of the Italian Association of Private Construction Contractors to always remember that “people are the real wealth: without them there is no working community, no enterprise, no economy.”
On workers’ day, the Commission therefore calls for a new social contract in which the rights and dignity of all workers – including non-EU workers – are fully promoted and respected, within an economic framework that restores and builds rather than exploits and destroys. Given that there can be no social justice without tax justice and no social cohesion if the rights and dignity of some are blatantly ignored, an economic and pension system which depend on the use and abuse of tax-paying workers who are then left empty-handed and discarded when no longer needed, should be firmly and roundly rejected.