MALTA DIARY: The spirit of Enterprise – Worker-Participation to the fore – at the ‘brothels’!
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Many marvel that after almost 2,000 years of foreign domination, different languages, different customs and different religious creeds the islands of Malta and Gozo have retained their own unique language, their customs, traditions and way of life – even some with their distinctly Maltese surnames (like mine, Fenech).
If there are to be living examples of the way integration works and survives, these have to be Malta and Gozo. The reason or reasons – in my interpretation being – we are people that are resilient, hard-headed, obdurate and non-compromising; with a very hard instinctive dose of the basic art of survival.
The whole is even more remarkable in that during the First Millennium and half way into the Second there were numerous occasions when the local ethic population almost disappeared entirely to be replaced with a fresh influx from nearby Sicily and other areas. During one dark episode the whole population of Gozo was carted off into slavery by the invading Turkish Ottomans!
A quick glace through a Maltese telephone directory in August 2018 will reveal surnames from every corner of the world – and I mean the world – as a result of visiting mariners, merchants, drifters or militia personnel marrying Maltese women, taking up residence, and breeding numerous children.
One other distinct survival trait has been the Spirit of Enterprise. If there is a quick buck to be made, the Maltese and Gozitans will make it; indeed, the Maltese compare the Gozitans in the same way the English compare the Scots – being thrifty, canny, conniving and money-wise-oriented … even though this is merely a myth!
Space in Malta is at a premium and always has been. It has to be utilised and exploited cannily.
Just a few examples; one bright spark rented the flat roof of a totally detached public convenience, built and opened a restaurant on it – and it is always packed with patrons. It is certainly not my meat or cup of tea even.
With the flood of immigrants and foreigners currently in Malta a number have ‘converted’ their subterranean basement garage into a ‘studio flat’. Others just fling down a few old mattresses and rent out sleeping space. One man had a small and disused cattle farm with dilapidated outbuildings and rented the buildings to immigrants and was estimated to be raking in €10,000 monthly!
Roofs in Malta are all flat. The old football stadium in Gzira was a magnet for soccer fans and was almost entirely surrounded by apartment blocks – all with a panoramic view of the pitch. When a top match or an international match was staged, the tenants hired out their roof space to football fans – cheaper than paying the Stadium entrance fee!
My career in HR spanned 40 years and experienced the whole rigmarole of updates that gradually changed the traditional “policing role” of HR into a more humane approach. This incorporated a stint of “worker-participation”, “worker-management” and Board Room “working Directors”. All turned out to be a load of bull. In one instance a newly-elected “worker-Director” attended our first Board Meeting and astounded all by suggesting our textile factory purchase a herd of goats.
The reason – so that workers could have a fresh, daily supply of goat’s milk! All his fellow Directors almost fainted.
The trend moved on to “people first”, “the internal customer”, “do-it-right-first-time”, “you come first” and many other things that also turned out to be a load of bull when our global microelectronics group CEO announced we had to forget all this rubbish and just make sure that people work, do their job properly and the company sells products.
However, when I thought I had heard it all – there is even more.
During this month of August, two Court cases hit the headlines and caused endless wonder and great doses of mirth.
Massage parlours in Malta have sprung everywhere, like mushrooms. Some are genuine health massage centres, others have exotic Chinese names – their only Cino link, and many others are reputed to be mere covers for brothels.
My one and only experience in massage came some eight years ago in Marrakesh in Morocco. I was wandering around the back alleys and came across a shop selling various oils, herbs and grains – and the aroma was scintillating. I strolled in.
The shop was large, attractive, clean and compelling, run by a middle-aged man and a really beautiful young, female assistant.
Would I like a healthy massage she asked while pointing to a massage couch in the corner, so obviously a proper massage and nothing sinister as it was in full view and not in some shady hideaway. Her beauty made up my mind and as it only cost the equivalent of €5, that clinched it.
I went in behind the thin almost transparent curtain and stripped down to my boxer shorts, and waited for the soothing touch of her beautiful hands. Seconds later a middle-aged woman waddled out of the back room. She was short, fat and fierce-looking and had obviously enjoyed a successful career as a champion, prize-winning all-in wrestler and kick boxer! Yes, she was the masseuse and the lovely girl was just a lure for mugs like me!
Still, it was a good massage.
In one of the cases, three Ukrainian women and another from Moldova were arraigned for working as prostitutes in three differently-located parlours, all owned by the same Maltese man. They did so voluntarily for the money, rented apartments from their boss, paid him €20 daily for a pack that included condoms, wipes and various other odds and ends and had a 50-50 split with him on profits.
They worked 13-hour shifts from 9am to 10pm and entertained an average of 12 clients daily. Leaving no stone unturned the owner had security cameras installed everywhere so as to keep an exact count of their daily client numbers.
Just as this was wrapped up in Court with fines, deportations and suspended prison sentences, another brothel case popped up.
This time four Colombian ladies stood charged with prostitution from a number of massage parlours that were being used as brothels. They did so willingly and voluntarily and were registered as “masseuses” on official registers. All were covered by work permits and insurance.
Apparently, all enjoyed their work and the money and also had a 50-50 profit sharing agreement with the owner. They and the owner too were fined, given suspended prison sentences and the women deported.
And so there we are – a new dimension in worker-participation at its best with “people first” principles and complete “customer care” treatment.
No wonder Malta is currently regarded as the best economically-performing country in the European Union!
“To earn or save a penny he will skin a flea”
The hallmark of a thrifty miser.