Bite the bullet: Chamber boss calls for immediate downsizing of civil service

Marisa Xuereb says private sector could absorb workers made redundant by government

Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Xuereb
Chamber of Commerce President Marisa Xuereb

Government must bite the political bullet and urgently implement a rationalisation process within the public sector to cut down the government’s payroll, the president of the Chamber of Commerce has said.

In comments to sister newspaper BusinessToday, Marisa Xuereb said that the government must trim the public sector if it is to be in a position to continue to offer essential services, subsidies and carry out major projects in the future.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, government toted the war chest it had available to offer subsidies and introduce measures, such as the wage supplement, to mitigate the effects of the pandemic,” she said.

“Now we are facing an energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine, and government is already started to feel the pinch, having to announce budget cuts in different sectors and to suspend projects.”

On Tuesday, Finance Minister Clyde Caruana said that the aim was to keep the deficit at between 5.5% and 5.8% of GDP. He confirmed that subsidies on energy prices would stay in place bt insisted the deficit of the country had to be kept under control.

At a meeting with social partners he also confirmed that the cost of living adjustment (COLA) would be between €9 and €10. Caruana said that if the government had not subsidised energy prices, the COLA next year would have been around €25.

“No enterprise would have been ready for that. We did not subsidise energy for political convenience but because it makes sense,” he said.

Xuereb said that if the public sector were to be downsized, it would free up funds to help it reach its targets.

She said that a vast majority of companies in the public sector were struggling to find staff to fill vacancies, because people were still lured to work in the public sector by the job security offered and the understanding that the output required would not be as high as in the private sector.

“Seeing examples such as Air Malta workers offered alternative jobs in the public sector or very favourable early-retirement conditions, makes it simpler for people to decide to join the public sector, even if at a lower pay than they would earn in the private sector.”

Xureb said that, unfortunately, terms like upskilling and re-skilling had become mere cliches, because wheras workers in some departments or entities were over-burdened, the vast majority did superfluous work and could be better utilised.

Xuereb said that if governmemt were to initiate a rationalisation process to realign its workforce as really needed, it would cut its payroll considerably while freeing up more workers for the private sector.

She said she was not naive as to not realise this was a political decision that could have repercussions for the party in government. But if the government were to implement such an exercise early during the legislature, it would have enough time before the next election to deal with the political fallout.