The government must not interfere with people’s personal choices, but seek to address the needs of a changing society, according to the Labour Party.
The party is hosting its first-ever congress at the National Park in Ta’ Qali this week, and each day, party members and representatives of organisations are given the opportunity to discuss a number of issues, before voting on guidelines which Labour is committing itself to base its electoral manifesto upon.
Three discussions were held yesterday, focusing on family, equality and work.
The first discussion was opened by social worker Carmen Fearne, who noted that as families had changed over the years, their changing needs also needed to be addressed. She brought up women’s increased participation in the workforce as an example of a significant change, pointing out that the ensuing concerns about childcare were adding to their stress.
Ms Fearne also remarked that families were not solely made up of the “traditional” nuclear family, a point which was seized upon by Malta Gay Rights Movement coordinator Gabi Calleja. She argued that gay couples and their children should enjoy the same rights as other families, earning an applause from a crowd made up mostly of elderly people.
Millennium Chapel director Fr Saviour Grima focused on the most vulnerable families, stressing that there were uncomfortable realities – such as people resorting to prostitution to pay debts – which needed to be addressed.
He stressed that families at risk of poverty often lacked budgeting skills which needed to be taught, and observed that local councils which are meant to serve the community should also have programmes to help families.
A number of different issues were brought up during the discussion on equality, with representatives of organisations focusing on their area of expertise and other contributors discussing their own experiences.
Lorraine Spiteri, from the Malta Confederation of Women’s Organisations, pointed out the irony of political parties applying quotas to increase female participation while Malta opposed introducing such quotas in company boardrooms. Later on, MCWO chairperson Renée Laiviera spoke about domestic violence, arguing that a change of law was necessary to protect victims and punish perpetrators appropriately.
Ms Calleja and fellow MGRM member Ruth Baldacchino also contributed to the debate, with the latter pointing out that the organisation’s proposals should not be deemed controversial.
Lecturer and family lawyer Ruth Farrugia discussed the rights of children, stressing the need to develop a culture of respect towards them. She noted how the time had come to consolidate a number of existing laws concerning children’s rights, which were introduced at different times and which had different aims.
The second discussion was concluded by Labour’s executive secretary, Lydia Abela, who stressed that the party was secular and believed that public morality – and not religious morality – should guide it.
“Our principal guideline is that the government has no right to interfere with personal choices,” Dr Abela maintained.
The need to address precarious employment was a prominent theme in the final discussion, although other matters were also brought up.
Gżira mayor Roberto Cristiano noted that such employment did not only exist in factories, or in security companies, but also in other fields. General Workers’ Union secretary general Tony Zarb later recounted how a contractor banned workers from speaking about their working conditions: Their contract included a €2,000 fine if they did.
A housewife who was aiming to return to the workforce lamented that present incentives to do so were not up to scratch. While the tax credit on offer sounded tempting, she said, this was outweighed by the increased tax payments her husband would have to pay.
Party leader Joseph Muscat concluded the debate, starting by hailing the congress as a turning point in local politics. In previous such exercises, the emphasis appeared to be on the politician, and not the people, he remarked.
Later on, he observed that the party was not checking the identity of attendees at the congress, adding that it was also ready to listen to people who did not intend to vote for it. “Ideas do not have a political affiliation,” he remarked.
He stressed that the party’s electoral manifesto would not simply consist of a list of promises, but a roadmap where each point is linked to another.
Labour aimed for higher living standards, Dr Muscat said, noting that it was useless to increase income if this increase was being outstripped by an increased cost of living.
He concluded by referring to a point raised by an Air Malta worker, who said that the government presented an overly-optimistic picture before the general elections, then changed the tune. After noting that Enemalta workers would face the same situation this time round, he said that there was one way to stop this practice: Voting for a Labour government.