The Nationalist Party on Tuesday called for urgent government measures and assurances to prevent job layoffs as a result of coronavirus.

Party leader Adrian Delia said the government’s reaction to the needs of the business community had so far been weak and even smacked of arrogance.

Employers, he said, should be given incentives and assistance to ensure that jobs were not lost.  

“We must safeguard jobs to ensure we do not have new problems in the future,” Delia said.

He said the government should pay workers for mandatory quarantine leave and it should cover 50% of the salaries of workers at risk of dismissal, subject to capping which should be agreed with the social partners. In return, the companies involved would need to guarantee that they would not sack anyone.

Delia pointed out that the government would still need to fork out money on social benefits if such workers lost their jobs.

He said the government should also team up with the banks so that their excess liquidity could be used to help businesses, such as by delaying payments.

New lending structures could also be set up to help businesses in difficulties.

During the financial crisis, many countries had helped the banks, and the banks should now likewise help society, Delia said.

Delia pointed out that the PN had already proposed a reduction of water and electricity tariffs and a suspension of VAT for companies hit by the impact of coronavirus, but got no government reaction. 

He called on the government to accept the opposition’s collaboration and assistance. “This is an emergency, not an electoral campaign, and the two sides should work together, along with employers and workers,” he said.

Mario de Marco, shadow minister for finance, said this was a do-or-die for businesses and jobs.

Hotels currently had zero revenue, restaurants, bars and sectors of the retail sectors would be in the same situation soon.

He noted that the government had projected revenue of €1 billion from social security and €2 billion from income tax. The government, he said, should create a €200 million fund to help businesses pay their salaries.

He said the government should use the national development and social fund to help tourism and retail firms, which employ some 60,000 people.

“A health crisis should not become an economic and social crisis,” De Marco insisted.

The press conference was also addressed by shadow ministers Claudio Grech and Kristy Debono.

Asked if he was still calling for a lockdown after having met the health authorities on Monday, Delia said three-quarters of a lockdown was effectively already in place and that talks should be held about the rest. The important thing was that everything was well planned and structured. The government, however, was acting too late in the measures it took, such as stopping flights.

Replying to other questions, Delia said that while he did not wish to be political, had Vitals observed its contract conditions with the government, an additional 900 hospital beds would have been available for the country.

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