Editorial | Wednesday, 26 August 2009

Waiting for dawn

The NSO yesterday published unemployment figures up to July 2009. It makes interesting reading for number-crunchers and bad news for all others. In the twelve months to July 2009 Malta saw a rise in unemployment of 1,488 and Gozo a further 75 bringing the number of registered unemployed up to 7521 - 6760 in Malta and 761 in Malta.
The Press Release also provides breakdowns by age and location (Malta and Gozo) as well as category of employment sought. Still it remains dry as dust to the layman. There is nothing of the human tragedy of jobs lost and troubles faced. Despite all the breakdowns, no analysis is possible to discover where and which areas of the economy are falling back fastest.
It does sound the alarm in noting a significant increase in the rise in recently unemployed. Information is power and many of us may become empowered to use this information whether by taking better care of the jobs they hold, seeking better security or as employers noting the casualties and the action they are taking by shedding part of their workforce.
None of it is encouraging and that is precisely what we do not need. This not to say that we should not be given the blackest of news when it is about but that what we need is a hope in the future not fear born of damages suffered in the recent past. The question is where is that hope to come from?
There were times when politicians expressed their utter confidence in the ability of Maltese entrepreneurship to seize opportunities and to build our common future. It suited them to say things like that because they then seemed to make their own the achievements of Maltese labour and capital. None of them have ever dared to admit that these achievements have been even greater than that: whatever they have been they have often been achieved despite and not because of government intervention.
With governments in the world’s most highly developed countries intervening massively to save the load bearing institutions in their economies from collapse, this does not seem to be the season for relying on entrepreneurship alone to pull us out of this tight spot. If you manufacture car parts and the car industry worldwide is in turmoil, what do you do? The story is the same across the board: in a country with no internal market to speak of, exports are slowing down as the recession bites deeper abroad. Despite government’s not very clearly specified aids to industries to sustain employment, unemployment has risen significantly. Despite unions’ cooperation where enterprises took their workforce into a four day week, not all jobs appear to have been saved.
Instead of confidence we have widespread anxiety, in some cases, despair. We have had clamorous cases of businessmen doing a runner on their creditors. Perhaps this is the season for the culling of the weak and the reckless. All others are fighting a rearguard battle aiming to keep their enterprise afloat. Some must be shedding staff, others resizing their operations to weather the storm.
As usual it is a matter of timing: when will the turn around come, how fast, how soon, at what rate? In the last few days we have had news of France and Germany climbing out of recession sooner than expected. Still, the jobs lost there will not be recovered overnight nor the shock of recession recedes from consumers’ minds in a twinkling. Malta will have to ride out the delay as confidence is slowly regained elsewhere.
Once these first signs of recovery appear to be sustained over time, our own recovery may begin to peep over the horizon. That is enough to dispel the worst fears. That is a clear hope and all any of us need.


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26 August 2009


Malta Today


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