[WATCH] Free childcare service to be broadened under new Labour government

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said the government would continue pushing for more people to join the workforce while also prioritising quality of life

Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference with education minister Evarist Bartolo (L) and Alex Muscat. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Prime Minister and Labour Party leader Joseph Muscat addresses a press conference with education minister Evarist Bartolo (L) and Alex Muscat. Photo: James Bianchi/MediaToday
Free childcare service to be broadened under new Labour government

A new Labour administration would broaden the free childcare scheme, by allowing for more flexibility in dealing with absentees, opening the scheme up to those who enroll in a full-time course, as well as offering a night childcare service.

“It is a realistic improvement, one that can succeed and one that does not go against the scope of the policy,” Muscat said. “We are not here for a proposal auction.”

Muscat was speaking at a Labour Party press conference, together with work and education minister Evarist Bartolo, where they outlined the government’s achievement in employment and outlined a number of proposals for the coming legislature.  

On introducing better flexibility for those not attending childcare centres because of illness, Muscat said the way the scheme was run when it started sought to prevent abuse, however over the years it had become apparent that many had valid reasons for not attending. He said that efforts would still be made to prevent abuses, especially given that the programme was run using tax-payer money.

Moreover, Muscat said the childcare service would be made available to those enrolled in a full-time study programme, while it would also be available during the night.

“Just because a person doesn’t have normal working hours doesn’t mean they should be precluded from using the service,” Muscat said.

Government would also be looking to extend the service to other localities, especially those of high commercial activity and would be offering a tax deduction of up to €4,000 to those using private childcare services. Employers offering childcare services would be benefitting from a tax deduction of €50,000.   

The Prime Minister said that the government’s success in creating jobs and improving working conditions was “without precedent” since never before had there been such creation of wealth, adding that this could be attributed to implementation of various government policies.

Another category of proposals Muscat said would be implemented by a Labour administration was that of improving working conditions.

He said the government had inherited a situation where the government was the “primary sponsor” of precarious work, explaining that the use of such employment had been reduced significantly through the closure of loopholes and the “blacklisting” of certain companies.

The Prime Minister acknowledged, however, that there were will cases of abuse, especially in the private sector. He said that the next step would be ensuring that people working in the private sector who do the same job, are paid equally.

Furthermore, Muscat said that the government would like to increase family-friendly measures, especially in the private sector.

In light of this, tax credits of up to €30,000 would be introduced for smaller companies to set up teleworking and flexible hours systems. This, he said, should also help people who would not have considered working, to join the workforce, to the benefit of employers.  

Lastly, Muscat said the government wanted to introduce two changes to workers’ leave. First, he said that government wanted to keep its promise to allow employees to use their sick leave to care for their children or loved ones. He said that discussions were underway, and while there was some resistance on the part of employers, the reform expected to have been implemented by 2018.

In addition to this, he said that a reform of the parental leave system will also be introduced.

Muscat explained that currently, through government intervention, a system was in place which ensures that the burden of maternity leave is not divided among all workers in a company.

“Today it doesn’t make a difference, cost-wise, whether you employ a man or a woman,” Muscat said of the “feminist measure”.

He said that now, the second part of the reform would be implemented and government would be introducing, wherever possible, the concept of parental leave.

“Families will be able to distribute leave as they see fit, and not necessarily at one go,” he said, adding that quality of life would be the next priority for the country.

Muscat insisted that all the proposals would be discussed with social partners and stakeholders, adding however, that the country could take it given that the economic outlook continues to be a positive one.

Removal of parliamentary privilege

Asked about his pledge to remove parliamentary privilege if elected to a second term, Muscat said that in the period he had followed the Maltese parliament, he could remember a number of MPs, from both sides, discussing its removal.

“I remember Evarist [Bartolo] and Censu Galea speaking about it on a number of occasions,” Musact said.

He said that immunity had been introduced to protect parliamentarians who wanted to expose something without fear of rebuke, insisting however, that times had changed and that it did not make sense for there to be a situation where one can say whatever he likes in parliament but can face serious consequences for comments made on social media.