Jobs for the boys: Reality or myth?

The common narrative pushed forward by Malta’s Opposition and other commentators is that the Labour Party’s strong support in the polls is cemented by this administration’s abuse of the power of incumbency. According to this narrative, thousands of jobs for the boys (and girls) are being dished out, burdening the public purse unnecessarily.

NSO data released in early September put paid to this story. NSO confirmed how the proportion of full-time jobs of the public sector has been on a significant downward trend throughout recent years. From 26% of total employment in 2013 to 21% in 2020, the relative decline is unprecedented. In fact, nine out of ten of the increase in full-time employment that occurred between 2013 and 2020 was in the private sector.

The second thing that emerges when one tries to dissect the increase in public sector employment is that, by and large, it was driven by two areas, namely health and education. Between 2019 and 2020 there was a rise of nearly 600 full-timers in the public health sector, together with an increase of nearly 300 in the public education sector. Three-quarters of the increase was therefore in these two essential sectors. This was an inevitable result of the pandemic, which created a state of emergency in the health sector and which necessitated large changes in the education sector with class sizes needing to be reduced to conform with health regulations.

9 out of 10 of the increase in full-time employment that occurred between 2013 and 2020 was in the private sector.

Leaving the pandemic aside, employment in these two sectors cannot be the ‘jobs for the boys’ (and girls) peddled about by the commentariat. Employment in the public health and education requires professional qualifications, with most of these careers being quite demanding and not amongst the most remunerated in our economy.

If one excludes health and education, public sector employment rose by less than 300 full-timers. This is hardly the stuff that could influence electoral majorities of the sort the party in government is registering.

In fact, the accommodation and food services sector, which is not the most dynamic job-creating sector in the pandemic, experienced about the same rise in full-time employment during 2020.

This narrative, like others adopted in recent months falls apart when subjected to even the most minimal degree of scrutiny. This alienation from what most people are experiencing is creating a wedge between the Nationalist Party’s message and the beliefs of the majority, further eroding trust in their Party’s message.

Higher quality public services are a key demand of the growing middle class created by the post-2013 economic growth. The government would do well to continue down the path of boosting the quality of the public sector.

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