On the 13th of June 2019, the European Commission adopted the Work-Life Balance Directive which addresses the work-life balance challenges faced by working parents and carers, and aims to increase the participation of women within the labour market.
The initiative takes into account the developments of society over the past years in order to enable parents and individuals with caring responsibilities to better balance their work and family lives and to encourage better sharing of such responsibilities between men and women.
This Directive sets out a comprehensive package of legal and policy measures which are to be implemented in each Member States’ legislative framework, including that of Malta, within three years.
The main elements which have now been agreed upon through the Work-Life Balance Directive, are the following:
Paternity Leave – Current European Union (EU) law does not provide for any minimum standards of paternity leave, whilst in Malta, in accordance with the Employment and Industrial Relations Act, fathers are entitled to one day of birth leave on the birth of their child. This may vary depending the Wage Regulation Order the employee may be regulated by.
In accordance to the Work-Life Balance Directive, fathers or equivalent second parents will be able to take at least ten working days of paternity leave around the time of birth of the child. Paternity leave must be compensated at a rate equal to that for sick pay.
Parental Leave – The current EU law already regulates parental leave, however, this currently stands at four months of parental leave per parent of which one month is non-transferable between parents and no minimum requirements have been imposed on Member States in relation to any payment or allowance for such parental leave. In Malta, both male and female employees have the individual right to be granted unpaid parental leave in case of birth, adoption, fostering or legal custody of a child to enable them to take care of that child for a period of four months, validuntil the child has attained the age of eight years. Parental leave can be availed of in established periods of one month each.
The intention of the Work-Life Balance Directive is to strengthen the existing four months of parental leave by making two of the four months non-transferable from one parent to the other and compensated at a level to be set by each Member State. Parents will also have the right to request to take such parental leave in a flexible manner, such as through part-time work, or in piecemeal.
Carers’ Leave – The concept of carers’ leave is new from both an EU law perspective and the Maltese legislative standpoint. The closest Maltese legislation comes to this notion is the fifteen hours urgency leave which each employer is bound by law to grant every employee as time off for urgent family reasons. These hours are to be deducted from the annual leave entitlement of the employee.
The Work-Life Balance Directive will make available to employees providing personal care or support to a family member or individual living in the same household, five days of leave per year in carers’ leave. This leave will be over and above any other annual leave entitlement.
Flexible Working Arrangements – Whilst current EU law and the majority of Member States, including Malta, offer the right to request reduced and flexible working hours upon return from parental leave, the Work-Life Balance Directive seeks to extend existing rights relating to such flexible working arrangements.
All working parents, and carers, with children up to the age of eight will now, through the Work-Life Balance Directive, be entitled to request the following flexible working arrangements:
- Reduced working hours;
- Flexible working hours; and
- Flexibility on the work place.
In order to complement the above mentioned legislative framework established through the Work-Life Balance Directive, a set of non-legislative measures or policies, have been included to support Member States to reach the common goal. These policies include:
- Ensuing protection against discrimination and dismissal of parents and cares;
- Encouraging a gender-balanced use of family-friendly measures;
- Making use of European funds to improve childcare services; and
- Removing economic disincentives for second earners which prevents parents, especially women, from accessing the labour market or working full-time.
Through this initiative, employees will profit from a better work-life balance and will also see an increase of women in employment, with higher earnings and possibilities of career progression, which will ultimately impact their and their families’ wellbeing. Inversely, employers will also profit from the Work-Life Balance Directive as they will now benefit from a wider talent pool, a more motivated workforce and more productive personnel.
About the Author
The article has been authored by Dr Christina Borg DeBono, Advocate at CSB Legal, who specialises in Company Law, Immigration, Yachting, Intellectual Property and Employment Law.