A year ago, the owner of New York Best food chain and the hipster guru Tommy Diacono lamented the comfortable lifestyle of the Maltese students. He suggested to scrap stipends so that the students would be incentivised to seek part-time employment as waiters. Let us see what fortune he envisages for the Maltese youth.
Raisa Galea spoke with Giulia*, former University of Malta student from Italy
In October 2016 I left my home in suburban Torino and came to Malta to enrol in a full-time Master’s course at the University of Malta. I did not receive any financial support from my family since they could not afford helping me. The MSc course scholarship (500 Euro per semester or 125 Euro per month) was certainly not enough to cover the expenses of rent, food and studying in Malta, and so I had to find a job.
It took me less than two weeks to find a job as a cashier at one of Sliema’s best-known restaurants which I would rather not name. My hourly rate was set at 5 Euro per hour, which is the hourly equivalent of minimum wage in Malta, however, I used to get 4.75 Euro in my hands since 25 cents were deducted as tax. After six months, I was promised an increase in wage, but it never materialised. Thus, I worked there for a year with no pay increase. Needless to say, combining a late night job with full-time studying is a challenge. Besides, a cashier job requires attention. Had I an option to focus on studying entirely, I would have certainly done so.
The pay was indeed low, but I did enjoy working at the restaurant because I liked my co-workers—we’ve become friends. Although we all worked equally hard, our pay was unequal. The hourly rate of the waiters from the Northern countries was higher than that of the Italians. I and the two Italian co-workers had the lowest wage, whereas a Latvian and a Finnish women were paid better.
The Maltese workers were also paid more. The Maltese waiting personnel could even set their own conditions and ask for a certain hourly rate and these conditions were met. I am not saying that this is a bad practice, but this option was unavailable to the foreign personnel.
My experience is far from unique. Since the economic situation in Italy holds little promise for the majority of young Italians, many have moved to Malta. Unfortunately, Maltese employers treat Italians unfairly because the lack of opportunities back home is forcing us to accept poor working conditions and low pay.
The employers, therefore, are spoiled for choice: they know that many foreigners, especially students like myself, are in search for a job. What interest do they have in increasing my wage, if they can employ another person with the same wage right after I leave?
I could not accept such treatment because it made me feel undeserving and a lesser human being. Although I find my current job at an eco-friendly start-up interesting, the pay still remains quite low. It barely covers food and rent expenses. We do not receive a bonus which is supposed to be paid every three months. We get no paid holidays, no vacation and no sick leave. These uncertainties wear me down. I would not like to return to Italy since there are too few opportunities for me there. However, life is becoming too expensive and there is not much hope for a better future in Malta.