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The number of workers employed through the Community Work Scheme shot up by 174, or 18 per cent, in 2022, as 240 new registrants – and 66 exits – brought the total number of workers in the scheme to 1,155.

The Community Work Scheme is a controversial programme that puts long-term unemployed persons on the payroll of a consortium led by the General Workers Union. The scheme is meant to help such persons gain the skills necessary for integration into the labour force.

However, there is little sign of success on this front, with many registrants remaining in the scheme for years.

In fact, a National Audit Office (NAO) report, published in November 2022, found that of the 1,476 persons who joined the scheme since 2016, when it was reworked by then-JobsPlus CEO Clyde Caruana (currently serving as Finance and Employment Minister), only 121 de-registered because they found work elsewhere – a success rate of just eight per cent.

In response to a parliamentary question posed by Opposition MP Carmelo Mifsud Bonnici, Minister Caruana earlier this month tabled a list of figures showing the total number of people in the scheme as at the end of December in 2020, 2021 and 2022.

There were 1,030 people registered under the scheme at the end of 2020, with 166 persons entering the programme that year.

In 2021, there were only 31 new registrations, while 80 exited the scheme, bringing the total number down to 981.

The NAO found that most of those de-registering from the scheme did so for reasons “other than finding work elsewhere”.

In 2022, the number of new registrations shot back up to the highest level seen since the landmark reform of the scheme in 2016.

The scheme has come in for heavy criticism from employer associations.

In 2021, Malta Employers Association president Joanne Bondin and director general Joe Farrugia said there is “no reason” for the scheme, which according to tender documents is aimed towards “non-professional and unskilled” workers, to employ over a thousand workers.

“There are ample job opportunities in the private sector for these people to be absorbed in many areas – construction, catering, transport, and others, with minimal training,” said Mr Farrugia.

Business leaders have long argued that the historical low unemployment is driven by increased public sector employment, or employment with third parties financed by the Government, like the Community Work Scheme.

The Malta Chamber president Marisa Xuereb has described the unemployment as “below the natural rate”, arguing that “this tends to put artificial upward pressure on wages, which in an inflationary environment, renders us even more uncompetitive.”

The effect of the scheme is particularly felt in Gozo. In April 2021, the island was home to 45 per cent of the Community Work Scheme workforce, despite only having 6.7 per cent of the national population.

As of July 2022, Gozo’s total unemployment stood at just 58, down from 127 in July 2021, marking a 50 per cent decrease over the period.

Of these 58, just 12 were under the age of 30.

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