Work-life balance rules ‘just tick-box exercise’, NGOs say of government shortcomings

NGOs petition parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul for wider consultation on bare-minimum law that Malta has adopted for work-life balance

Parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul
Parliamentary secretary Andy Ellul

Nine organisations in support of parental rights, workers’ rights and equality between men and women have demanded wider consultation on the transposition of the EU Directive on work-life balance, in a letter to parliamentary secretary responsible, Andy Ellul.

The new rules implemented in Malta came into effect in early August but transposed just the bare minimum of the EU Directive.

The organisations have insisted the transposed rules will not enable Maltese workers to successfully combine work with family and care responsibilities, complaining of the behind-closed-doors talks during the past three years that preceded the rules. “Why isn’t the Maltese Government delivering an ambitious vision which inspires and which will truly improves workers’ quality of life and has a positive impact on Maltese society?” they asked.

Unions accused of bowing to government on weak work-life balance rules

Moviment Graffitti, aditus foundation, Alleanza Kontra l-Faqar, Integra Foundation, Malta Women’s Lobby, MGRM - Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement, National Parents’ Society for Persons with Disability, Women’s Rights Foundation, and ADHD Malta, have presented five examples in which the law can be strengthened.

Starting with the ten days of paternal leave which are being provided at full pay, the group is questioning why this leave needs to be taken immediately after the birth or adoption of the child. “The current implementation fails to acknowledge that all families have different needs,” they said.

The second element, parental leave, only pays at a sick-pay rate of €21.85 daily for just two days of the four months available. “Why are parents going to be paid at sick-pay level when they are perfectly healthy and when they are providing a service to society with their care?” the NGOs asked.

“Does the government realise that this money will not go far in a period when the family’s expenses shoot up, especially with the recent increase in the cost of living? Unless this rate is revised, few parents will afford to take this leave. Specifically, few fathers will afford to do so, which means that it will remain women’s responsibility to provide unpaid or poorly paid care for the family.”

The new rules also do not allow the paid portion of parental leave to be used all at once. Only one month can be used until the child is four years of age. The organisations are asking for flexibility in this regard so that the paid portion of parental leave can be taken according to the family’s needs.

The carers leave for workers who have caring responsibilities, allows up to five days of unpaid leave. “Once again we see the government taking those workers who are providing caring services for granted. This leave should be paid adequately and fairly. The government needs to stop propagating the charity model.”

And the NGOs said there are no criteria for the requests for flexiwork from working parents of children younger than 8 and workers with caring responsibilities. “The fact that the measure is only applicable to parents and those with caring responsibilities, again shows that the Government is out of touch with today’s society. This right to request flexible work arrangements should be available to all.”