Malta’s economic surplus should be invested in increased paternity and equal parental leave, which would help bridge the gender employment and pay gap in the long-run, according to Nationalist MEP David Casa.
“Malta has a growing economy and the government has been boasting a surplus. Wouldn’t it be better if this surplus is invested in initiatives that will also benefit the government in the long run by bridging the gender gap?” he asked.
Mr Casa was speaking to the Times of Malta as the proposed Work-Life Balance directive, which he led and negotiated – a first for a Maltese MEP – awaits a final vote in the European Parliament in April before becoming law.
The directive would introduce 10 days of paternity leave, remunerated at not less than the national sick pay level, and two months of paid leave for each parent that can be used until the child is eight years old.
The aim of the directive was to ensure parents shared the responsibility of their children’s upbringing from the very beginning, Mr Casa said.
Fathers in Malta enjoyed only a single day of birth leave, meaning that if their child was born towards the end of the year and the mother suffered post-natal complications, the father would not be able to lend a hand because he would have probably used up all his leave for the year, Mr Casa noted.
The directive has divided opinion, with some saying the 10-day paternity provision is not enough and others questioning the financial burden of increasing paternity leave entitlement.
Mr Casa said his team had tried to find the middle ground as it faced resistance from some employers, who argued this was going too far, while unions insisted it was not enough.
Though the government needed to consult with businesses and small and medium enterprises, birth leave was a social service, something that was paid up by the State worldwide, he pointed out.
The proposed standards were the minimum that would set uniformity across the EU while remuneration was up to the individual member states.
In Malta, mothers have 18 weeks of paid leave with a further four months of unpaid leave available for either parent to use. The four-month period was usually used by the mother and Mr Casa noted that their pension suffered as a result since they did not pay national insurance contributions during those particular four months.
We shouldn’t look at these rights as an extra expense but as a change in mentality
Apart from introducing 10 days of paid paternity leave, the EU directive would lay down that those four months parental leave would also be paid and made available to parents during their child’s first eight years. This measure would be non-transferrable, meaning that two months have to be taken by the father and another two months by the mother, in consultation with the employer.
Maternity leave provisions, which are the remit of individual member states, will not be affected by the directive.
“This is a small step to start bridging the gender gap, which costs Malta millions of euros each year. Equal parental leave will help start closing the gap as women will continue working and, therefore, making their national insurance contributions,” Mr Casa said.
Losing a female employee was also a burden on the employer who would have to find a new recruit and provide training.
The directive would also introduce the right for employees to request flexible working arrangements and five days of annual leave being granted to workers to care for sick relatives.
As with its other provisions, the five-day entitlement was just a minimum condition. In Belgium, for example, rather than five days every year, workers are allowed the equivalent of a whole year in carer’s leave throughout their career, Mr Casa added.
Another option would be for the government to accumulate an employee’s carers’ leave over the years so they can use it when they really need it. This would also help governments save money in the long-term, considering that residential and geriatric care was partly-subsidised by the State.
“The directive is a good start. I’m convinced that, after a few years, we will start seeing a big positive effect on our economies,” he said.
“We shouldn’t look at these rights as an extra expense but as a change in mentality.
“Women have careers and we need them to remain working as they make an important contribution to societies. It is unfair that they have to sacrifice their career,” he remarked.
Asked about increasing paternity leave and whether the government was willing to carry the financial burden of the directive, a spokesman for the Equality Minister said the government was “fully committed towards sustaining a strong work-life balance”.
It had a mandate to do so and had already introduced several measures to this end, such as the increased vacation leave in compensation for public holidays falling on weekends, he said.
As it did in previous transpositions of EU directives, the government would engage with all social partners and interested parties to identify the best way to implement the directive.