Pakistani pilots? Yes. Pakistani bus drivers? No.

The Opposition’s discourse around foreign workers is veering into populism, warns Labour EP election candidate Jesmond Marshall.

“At the inception of Air Malta, the people who were flying our airplanes were Pakistani pilots. At the time, there were highly admired and commended. Today, Pakistani drivers are driving our buses. There should be no difference.”

This pertinent observation was made by Jesmond Marshall, one of Labour’s candidates for the 8th June European Parliament elections. In fact, in the early 70s, Pakistan International Airlines had sent some of its employees on deputation to Air Malta. These included the chief pilot and heads of marketing, finance and ground operation departments.

Marshall was reacting to the cheap labour narrative being put forth by the Opposition in direct criticism to employment practices in Malta. He called for a reflection on our past before 2013, which he believes sheds light on the evolution of labour conditions in Malta.

Jesmond Marshall

“Initially, the Maltese workforce faced conditions worse than cheap labour; precarious employment among the Maltese was rampant.  This context is crucial for understanding how far we have come,” insists the candidate, who is also the Secretary of the Metal and Construction section within the General Workers’ Union.

“In the past, I dealt with Maltese workers who were paid the minimum wage on paper but were made to return part of their earnings to their employers,” states Marshall.

Calling out the Opposition for sustaining these shocking practices back in the day, he reflects that a large part of the issue nowadays is overcoming language barriers. The importance of preserving traditions, he says, is recognised globally.

“The Maltese themselves celebrate local traditions overseas: in Canada and Australia and elsewhere. Then why is it that half the country ignites when Filipinos actively celebrate Christmas in Malta, which is a feast that we also celebrate as locals?” he asks.

Marshall adds that the Opposition’s discourse around foreign workers is veering into populism, with political narratives focusing on them as a problem. However, this perspective overlooks the contributions of foreign workers and fails to address the root causes of their presence in Malta.

“We need to recognise and speak about the changing dynamics of Maltese families, which have become smaller: a fact that often goes unacknowledged. Alongside this shift, our standard of living has significantly increased. We have to ask: should we or should we not hire foreigners for specific tasks? The decision boils down to a simple choice: either we bring in foreign workers or else we face the reality that certain jobs will remain undone,” warned the EP elections candidate.

He added that the Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the indispensability of every job. “Whereas our lawyers stayed home and worked remotely, it was our postmen and garbage collectors who continued their essential services. What would we have done where it not for our supermarket workers?” he asks.

Jesmond Marshall believes that addressing the issue of racism and selective acceptance within our society is crucial. “There is a tendency to differentiate between foreigners, favouring some over others based on nationality. But today, British nationals are as much third country nationals as Indians are,” he observes.

Jesmond Marshall’s words reflect the journey that Malta needs to make towards recognising the value of every job, including those filled by foreign workers. It is a call to challenge stereotypes, address racism, and appreciate the diverse contributions that enrich our society.

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Frans Camilleri
Frans Camilleri
1 month ago

I agree in spirit with what Mr Marshall is saying. However, for the record, the Pakistani pilots at Air Malta came with the setting up of the airline under Mr Mintoff’s Labour Government in 1974. They were phased out over 3-4 years as foreign pilots were recruited. In 1978, the first 12 Maltese pilots joined the airline after training in Paklistan. We at Air Malta celebrated their arrival in a big way. They started flying the aircraft which the PN Opposition of the time had called “ajruplani tac-comb”. By the way, those used aircraft were sold at a profit many years later, compared to the brand-new RJs purchased under a PN administration which were sold a few years after their purchase at an astronomical loss!