by Jesmond Saliba
May is ushering in a new Spring over Europe as most countries are finally taking their small steps forward from what felt like an interminable hibernation. The fight against the coronavirus appears to have reached a tipping point in many EU regions and governments are easing restrictions, allowing hard-hit industries to rebuild.
The reopening of the first retailers and services was a welcome decision in Malta, too, after more than five weeks of mounting pressure on businesses. In these extraordinary conditions, employers deserve the highest praise for taking the long view – and very often the compassionate view – by resisting layoffs.
A survey among almost 400 businesses conducted by the Malta Employers Association discovered that nine out of every ten companies registered no redundancies until the end of April. Considering that the outbreak had a devastating effect on retail, accommodation and leisure, sectors which account for a fifth of total employment in Malta, the dogged determination of employers to hold on to their staff is truly remarkable.
However, the economic aftershocks will linger on after the Covid-19 earthquake and only a quarter of respondents could confirm with the employers’ body that they do not expect any change in the number of employees on their books. In fact, nearly a third were ready to concede that their businesses project downsizing after May unless the situation changes.
The government is sending the right signals by setting an end-of-month target for the resumption of activity in most sectors while at the same time triggering an automatic extension of the wage supplement until June. Nevertheless, almost half of the employers taking part in the MEA survey said that they are not eligible for the available support schemes.
This presents a worrying scenario that threatens to cripple the economy and the wellbeing of hundreds of families. Although money is the most crucial form of support, companies require alternative stimulus models that help them sustain their businesses and adapt quickly to new opportunities. In order to save jobs, employers need a confident customer base and an uncomplicated entry into it; an effective rescue strategy for local business succeeds in reassuring the market and expand it further.
Throughout the crisis, employers proved to be more than just job-creators. In standing by their employees during this most uncertain of times, they have established themselves as a trustworthy and resilient stakeholder. It is now up to the authorities to ensure that this precious element of our economy is backed to prevail over the emergency.
Executive Chairman CiGroupMt