With the Prime Minister’s recent threat still ringing in their ears, pensioners are again calling on the government to make bold decisions to ensure the long-term sustainability and adequacy of pensions.

Concern over the sustainability of pensions is often expressed not just by the pensioners’ associations but also by institutions and credit rating agencies. Now it takes a wider dimension following the direct linkage of the State pension payment to the continued inflow of foreign workers made by the Prime Minister.

To the astonishment of pensioners and workers as well, Joseph Muscat argued that those who were against more foreigners coming into the country were also turning their back on economic growth and social measures, such as pensions. Rubbing salt into the wound, he was quoted saying: “You cannot cherry pick economic policies. If you want to enjoy the meat you need to take the bone too.”

These remarks would, of course, infuriate pensioners and they did. Still smarting from his upsetting statement, they are now pressing the administration to do what needs to be done to ensure the sustainability of their pension. The Prime Minister needs to be reminded that those in retirement had contributed to their pension, directly out of their salaries, all their lives. As the president of the Alliance of Pensioners’ Organisations, Carmel Mallia, has pointed out so well, pensioners are being made the scapegoats of the prevailing social and economic situation.

Pensioners, he said, were being used as a pawn to send out messages to stakeholders opposing the influx of foreign workers. Importing labour may be required if the economy is growing at a rate that could not be sustained without them but it is wrong to directly link the payment of contributory pension to this, however important it may be to ensure further growth.

Is the Prime Minister implying that without the influx of foreign workers pensions it will no longer be sustainable? If this is the case, then the argument in support of the need for a more diversified economic mix becomes even more urgent than ever before. In any case, since the building boom will not last forever, it will indeed be wise to double the efforts to promote further diversification.

Family Minister Michael Falzon has gone on record saying that, whereas before the recent rise in economic activity and migration, the pensions system faced a significant sustainability challenge, now the challenge is somewhat reduced, although still there. This again confirms the pensioners’ fears about the future sustainability of pensions.

Hopefully, a better sense of direction will be given over this issue by the pensions strategy group, which has been reappointed “to assess the options on how to continue improving the generosity of the system while also addressing sustainability of future expenditure”. When, according to Eurostat, one in four pensioners is at the risk of poverty, the word “generosity” sounds incongruous.

Indeed, what needs also to be urgently tackled is the adequacy of pensions. The increases the government has been giving annually still do not go far enough for many pensioners to make both ends meet.

Rather than empty talk, throwbacks to past times and threats, pensioners expect a solid improvement in their welfare so they can live in dignity and peace of mind.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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