The Cabinet will next week discuss new standards regularising temping agencies that import foreign workers, Robert Abela told parliament on Tuesday.

"We will not tolerate temping agencies with a high turnover which earn money off new workers. For those few who operate this way, your time is up," Abela said.

In an often rousing speech, the Prime Minister was replying to the Opposition leader's reaction to the government's budget plans for 2024

Abela had announced plans to regulate such employment agencies in September. On Tuesday, he said the draft regulations will be discussed next week, and once implemented, will terminate the operations of those who did not regularise themself immediately.

"Our socialist blood will ensure a strong stand against the exploitation of people, irrespective of their race.

"Once workers make it to Malta in a regular manner, they need to be treated with dignity like every other human being," Abela said.

He said one way to ensure this was to create a distinction between the fees paid for the renewal of work permits and the application of new permits. This would be a disincentive for those who relied on a high turnover while encourage employers to retain their workers, invest in them and train them. 

The Prime Minister said the time was also up for those who rented out shared accommodation and crammed a large number of people in their property.

On Monday, Housing Minister Roderick Galdes said landlords will start being limited by the number of tenants they can rent their property to, as the government moves to reduce overcrowding in shared accommodation.

No marina at Marsascala

Speaking about the government's plans for open public places, Abela said the 2006 changes to the local plan will be amended to ensure no marina is developed at Marsascala.

Just last August, Abela similarly promised that planning laws were being amended to ensure Ħondoq ir-Rummien Bay will not be developed, after a planning tribunal shot down a developers’ appeal to forge ahead with development, closing the chapter on a 20-year saga.

Meanwhile, the buffer zone around Wied Żnuber will be turned from an industrial zone to an outside development zone, while a planned model plane airstrip project in the area will be downsized.

The alarm about the airstrip was raised in 2022 by a group of farmers who told Times of Malta about plans to turn a stretch of land off Wied Żnuber into a miniature airstrip.

Abela also reassured motorsport enthusiasts that the long-promised racing track project, was progressing well.

Bernard Grech in parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Chris Sant FournierBernard Grech in parliament on Tuesday. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

Multimillion investment by medical devices company

A company that specialises in the manufacturing of medical devices, and which in 2012 was reconsidering its position in Malta, will be investing €74 million in the island, creating 180 specialised careers, Abela told parliament.

He did not disclose the name of the company, which, he said operated in the innovation sector and formed part of a multinational group. However, he said this same company had, in 2020, expressed concern over the repercussions of a COVID lockdown in Malta.

Three years on, the company was now planning on extending its operation here and will build an extension to its plant coordinated by INDIS, the agency responsible for the administration of government-owned industrial parks.

Drop in medicine prices

Addressing concern about increased medicine prices, Abela tabled a list in parliament detailing a drop in prices of 54 medicines.

Among others, Abela said the price of glucophage - a medicine prescribed to diabetes patients - will see its price slashed by over half: a drop of €13.45. 

Similarly, ezetrol - consumed by people suffering from high cholesterol - will see a 20% drop in its price, the equivalent of €9.58.

Increased benefits

During his address, Abela provided three examples of families and the benefits they would be receiving in 2024 as a result of the government's budget:

An elderly couple that depends on one pension because the wife had not paid enough social contributions before retirement age will receive a €780 increase in pension; a €50 bonus targeting those who do not qualify for a pension; €100 for continuing to reside in their house within the community and €380 as part of the new inflation mechanism: a total of €1,310.

A single parent on a minimum age with two children will see a €1,090 increase in their annual salary; a €100 increase in their inwork benefit; a €500 increase in children allowance; €420 as part of the inflation mechanism and a €135 in tax refund: a total of €2,245.

A couple on average wage with two children (one of compulsory school age, the other following post-secondary schooling) will receive a COLA increase of €1,350; an additional €250 in children allowance and a €500 post-secondary education benefit: a total of €2,100.

These increases, Abela said, excluded thousands of euros saved in utility bills.

The Prime Minister's speech in parliament lasted over two hours. Photo: Chris Sant FournierThe Prime Minister's speech in parliament lasted over two hours. Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

In his address, Abela said the government's budget was made for the people, with the people. 

"While helping people face the biggest current challenge - inflation - we are also offering a vision for the coming decade," Abela said, listing a series of government initiatives including a daily €1 million in energy subsidies.

“It was a budget that provided stability. Our budget is based on a manifest - a plan… You know where you stand with us,” Abela said, adding that the family  - in its various forms – remained at the centre of PL’s policies. 

In his address, Abela continuously took digs at his opponent, saying Bernard Grech did not understand the basics of economics.

The country's current debt, he said, was well below the EU's benchmark of 60%: Malta's stood at 53%.

Under a PN government, the country's debt had reached 70%.

Had the government allowed the "market to lead" - another PN suggestion - families would be spending thousands more euros on energy and fuel every year, Abela said.

"This is the reality that families are living not far from our shores. But we know how to lead."

The Prime Minister also rebutted Grech's claims that a large number of the additional 100,000 employees who joined Malta's workforce over the past 10 years were cheap labourers. 

According to national data, only eight per cent of these additional employees were basic-skilled workers, Abela said, adding that this cohort had seen a 30% increase in their pay over a decade.

Two-fifths of the additional 100,000 workers held managerial or professional roles, and they had seen their salaries increase by 44% and 33% respectively, he added. 

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