The increasing reliance on foreigners to address Malta’s shortage in the workforce may push the population to reach 700,000 mark in a few years, with possible social and environmental repercussions, employers are warning.

Malta Employers Association president Dolores Sammut Bonnici expressed this concern during a debate organised this morning by the Malta Institute of Accountants. The discussion focused on the sustainability of small and medium enterprises and their growth prospects.

In a brief analysis of the current economic scenario, Ms Sammut Bonnici reiterated employers’ recruitment struggles while noting that this was a result of Malta being completely unprepared for the rapid economic growth being registered.

Despite government incentives to increase female participation rate and to encourage workers reaching retirement age to remain in employment, the shortage in the labour workforce had persisted, she said. 

“We have reached a situation that the moment you are awarded a large contract you start scratching your head whether you have a workforce big enough to carry out the job,” she remarked.

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Moreover she complained that in view of the labour shortage, employers were reluctant to take disciplinary measures for fearing of losing their workers. The MEA president also lamented that poaching of employees was driving wage bills higher and higher.

Between a rock and a hard place

Employers are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place as they either acquiesce to the workers’ demands for a wage rise, or else lose them with the prospect of not being able to find a replacement or having to retrain another person from scratch, she said.

Furthermore, the MEA noted that the paperwork to bring in third country nationals is taking between four to six months, leading to illegal employment of foreign workers until they had their status regularised.

Nonetheless, such approach has its own pitfalls as well, Ms Sammut Bonnici said.

In this respect she echoed recent concerns raised by the Malta Hotels and Restaurants Association, on the risk of overpopulation.

The MEA President said that more foreign workers would mean greater demand for properties which in turn could place more stress on the environment.

“We are looking at a large tree which is producing fruits galore, but the soil is not there,” Ms Sammut Bonnici remarked.

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