The modern family faces immense challenges to achieve a work-life balance that supports family life. With birth rates falling, it is to be expected that policymakers try to devise ways of easing this pressure to encourage more couples to have children and raise them in a family-friendly environment.

The European Union excels in defending workers’ rights by issuing directives that help people strike the right work-life balance by contributing to economic growth through work while enriching their personal lives. The proposed Work-Life Balance Directive aims to increase the benefits of employees who are raising children or caring for dependant relatives.

This directive will soon enable fathers to benefit from 10 days of paternity leave. It also strengthens the existing right to four months of parental leave by making two out of the four months non-transferable. An annual five days carer’s leave will become mandatory for those who have caring duties.

The Association for Equality welcomed this family-friendly directive. The Malta Employers’ Association wants a reassurance that the State would fund any increase in labour costs related to the new directive. The Chamber for Small and Medium Enterprises – GRTU shot down the EU directive and argued it would be better for member states to assess the most effective way to increase women’s participation in the labour market.

One international survey on the merits of improving benefits for parents raising young children found that 94 per cent of respondents agree that paid parental leave would help families and 65 per cent said it would help the economy. The importance of fathers sharing in the day-to-day responsibilities for raising children is also becoming more pronounced, especially among millennials.

However, there is disagreement on the details of who should pay for such benefits and whether they should be mandatory or optional. In the end, someone has to pay for this investment in the present and future well-being of society.

Employers focus on the effects of such benefits on their profitability in the short term. The government, while not wanting to assume more financial burdens, must introduce long-term measures to strengthen the basis of family life. While employers seem to be more flexible in granting parental benefits to highly-skilled workers to retain their loyalty, low earners are more likely to fall into poverty because of a birth or an illness.

Many progressive countries had to resolve this dilemma by striking a balance between public policymakers’ responsibilities and employers’ preferences. International surveys once again indicate that the most popular solution was a tax credit to employers who offer such family-friendly responsibilities that will soon become mandatory.

Another proposal is that a government fund, which employers and employees pay into, should be set up to finance such parental benefits. In this way, the burden would be shared by the government as well as by all employers and employees.

The Work-Life Balance Directive is a positive development that reasserts the importance of family life at a time when parents are under increasing pressure to juggle their career duties with those of raising a family or caring for a sick relative.

Sharing the cost of this investment in an important sector of society is achievable if both the government and employers look at the long-term benefits of supporting the family life of employees.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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