Where did all the Maltese workers go?

While industry and agriculture, accommodation and food services, and construction saw a combined decline of nearly 10,600 Maltese workers between 2012 and 2022, the rest of the Maltese economy saw an increase of 40,236 Maltese workers.

Where are all the Maltese workers gone? This is a question typically posed by those who lament that there has been a large increase in the number of foreign workers in Malta.

But while this is typically a rhetorical question, meant to kickstart grumbling about the presence of migrant workers, why not try to find an answer to it through Jobsplus data? In fact, Malta’s public employment service publishes data on total employment as well as employment of foreign workers. From that, one can calculate how many Maltese workers there are in each economic sector.

Between 2002 and 2012 the number of Maltese persons in employment rose by just under 20,000. By contrast, in the following decade, the increase was closer to 30,000, or 50% more. So, the first thing to consider is that the data show that not only did the Maltese workforce continue to grow in recent years, but it actually increased at a much sharper rate than before. The reason for this was, however, mostly reflective of a higher female participation. The number of male Maltese workers rose by just 8,000 over a decade, while the number of female Maltese workers increased by some 22,000 over the same period. This in itself is the result of the reforms introduced after 2013, such as free childcare, as this facilitated female participation greatly. At the same time, social security reforms such as tapering and incentives towards longer careers helped boost male participation.

Without any intervention, the ageing process would have resulted in a lower number of Maltese workers. The number of Maltese aged between 20 and 59, in fact, was 217,169 in 2012 and 216,938 in 2022. The improvement in the number of Maltese workers between 2012 and 2022 boils down to higher participation rates, which were mostly due to active labour market policies.

After having verified that the number of Maltese workers has in fact increased at a much faster rate than before 2013, the next step is to look at which sectors the Maltese went to work in. Like what had happened between 2002 and 2012, in the following decade the number of Maltese working in industry and agriculture dropped further. However, whereas in the decade to 2012 there had been a drop of close to 8,500 in this sector (-24%), in the following decade the drop was of just over 3,900 (-14%).

The decade to 2022, however, saw two other sectors shed a lot of Maltese workers. The accommodation and food service activities sectors saw their Maltese workforce fall by nearly 4,100, a decline of nearly 30%. Similarly, the construction sector registered a decline of over 2,600 Maltese workers, a decline of 22%. In the previous decade both sectors had seen some increase in their Maltese workforce.

While industry and agriculture, accommodation and food services, and construction saw a combined decline of nearly 10,600 Maltese workers, the rest of the Maltese economy saw an increase of 40,236 Maltese workers. Just over a third of this increase went to the public administration, education, and health sectors. Another third of the rise in the Maltese workforce went into the professional, administration, and support services sector. The size of the Maltese workforce in this sector nearly doubled during the decade to 2022, with an increase that was twice that observed in the previous decade.

The number of Maltese working in the arts, entertainment, and recreation sector (which is mostly the remote gaming sector) also doubled in the decade to 2022, growing at twice the rate observed in the previous decade. A similar trend was observed in the financial services and real estate sectors, which saw the number of Maltese workers rise by over 4,200, more than double the increase seen in the ten years before 2013.        

There was also a healthy increase of nearly 4,100 Maltese workers in the wholesale and retail, transport, information and communication, and other services sector. This was, however, half that which had been observed in the previous decade.

Thus, to the question of where are all the Maltese workers have gone, the informed reply is that they are going in the professional services, health, education, remote gaming, financial services, and other services sectors. It is much less likely to see them in construction and in the accommodation and food services sectors.

While up to 2012 there were more Maltese working in construction than there were working in the financial services sector, this is no longer the case, and now the situation is reversed. Similarly, while in 2002 there were more Maltese working in accommodation and food services than there were Maltese working in professional services, now there are three times and a half more Maltese working in professional services than in accommodation and food services.

Photo: Karolina Grabowska

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Frans Camilleri
Frans Camilleri
1 month ago

Good to debunk certain false narratives by people who have no interest in the facts.

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