Prime Minister Robert Abela has said he will forfeit one month’s salary in solidarity as the country struggles through the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Abela said he would be “doing his bit” to help out, as he called on employers and workers to be “flexible” during an extraordinary moment for the global economy.
As prime minister, Abela earns a base salary of €56,800 a year, which amounts to just over €3,600 every month, and allowances of roughly €6,000 a year.
“We must help each other out. Everyone must help however they can and do their bit. This is me doing my bit,” he said while answering questions at a press conference announcing additional financial aid for business owners forced shut by the coronavirus.
The measures announced on Tuesday will see the government pay €800 a month of all affected workers’ salaries, with that also applying to minimum wage workers who currently make marginally less than that. Employers will then be expected to top up their workers’ monthly salaries by up to €400 a month, for a maximum of €1,200.
The coronavirus pandemic has forced Malta to close its airport to passenger travel, shut restaurants, bars, non-essential shops and services as well as schools, bringing the economy to a virtual standstill.
Abela urged all parties to be “reasonable”.
“To protect jobs, everyone has to be reasonable. Employers must do everything to protect workers’ wages. Employees must understand that some sacrifice may be required,” he said, adding that he expected employers to reward workers’ sacrifices “when the good times return”.
The same went for landlords of private properties, he added later in the press conference, urging them to think longer-term and to focus on retaining tenants.
The prime minister declined to say whether he favoured introducing a windfall tax on massive corporate profits as a means of raising money to pay for the payments, but did not dismiss the idea out of hand.
“Now is not the time to discuss new taxes. That is something we can discuss at a more opportune moment,” the prime minister said.
Abela’s pledge to forfeit a month’s wage mirrors similar gestures made by political leaders elsewhere in the world during the coronavirus pandemic.
Singapore’s entire cabinet of ministers have said they will take a one-month pay cut during the crisis, as has the speaker of India’s parliament. In South Korea, the prime minister and his cabinet have said they will forfeit 10 per cent of their annual pay to help the coronavirus relief effort.