Authors: Ann Bugeja, Francesca Anastasi & Nina Fauser
Gender equality is a core principle in this day and age. From an employment perspective, gender equality is not only about lessening the pay gap, but also about treating both genders equally and ensuring that every individual has access to the same equal opportunities. Despite being in the 21st century, gender inequality remains one of the biggest issues which society faces. In Malta, we still undoubtedly have certain gender stereotypes, wherein people within a society are led to believe that a specific gender must carry out a specific role.
It is evident that one parent (whether male or female), is expected to drop everything to focus on taking care of their newborn child following birth, and it has become common practice that such parent utilizes maternity leave in this regard, irrespective of whether one wishes to do so or not.
In fact, this way of thinking is also reflected in our legislation. Under Maltese law, a pregnant woman who is in employment is entitled to 18 uninterrupted weeks of maternity leave, where the first 14 weeks are paid by the employer, and the remaining 4 weeks are paid by the Government. As a general rule, such employee must inform her employer that she intends to avail of such leave, at least 4 weeks in advance. On the other hand, as per Subsidiary Legislation 452.101, the ‘Minimum Special Leave Entitlement Regulations’, a father is entitled to birth leave consisting of 1 working day on the occasion of the birth of his child.
Another option is that of parental leave which is regulated by Subsidiary Legislation 452.78, the ‘Parental Leave Entitlement Regulations’. Here, both male and female workers have the individual right to be granted unpaid parental leave in cases of birth, adoption, fostering, or legal custody of a child to enable them to take care of that child for a period of 4 months until the child has attained the age of 8 years. Parental leave can be availed of in established periods of 1 month each. For an employee to be eligible to apply for parental leave, such employee must have covered at least 12 months of continuous service with his / her employer, unless a shorter period is agreed to between the employee and employer.
Thus, taking everything into consideration, fathers are either entitled to paternity leave amounting to 1 working day at full pay, or else can choose to opt for unpaid parental leave. Needless to say, much more needs to be done.
The EU Work-Life Balance Directive
In 2019, the EU Work-Life Balance Directive (Directive 2019/1158) entered into force. The main aim of the Directive is to improve access to family leave and flexibility arrangements. As from the 1st August 2019, all Member States have a period of 3 years within which to transpose this
Directive into their national legislation. Measures under the Directive include:
- The introduction of paternity leave where fathers shall be eligible to take at least 10 working days of paternity leave around the time of the birth of their child, compensated at least at the same level of sick leave entitlement;
- Ensuring that 2 out of the 4 months of parental leave are non-transferable between parents and compensated at a level that is determined by the Member State;
- The introduction of carers’ leave, where workers providing personal care or support to a relative will be entitled to 5 days of leave per year; and
- Extending the right to request flexible working arrangements to carers and working parents of children up to 8 years old.
As mentioned above, it is clear that much more can and needs to be done, however the introduction of this Directive is indeed a step in the right direction.
Comparison with other European countries
A comparative study, as indicated in the below table, has been carried out in order to assess the paternity leave situation in other EU Member States:
|EU Member State||Leave entitlement|
|Sweden||Parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of paid parental leave when a child is born or adopted. Each parent, should they be 2, is entitled to 240 of those days.|
|Finland||Fathers can, after the birth of the child, take paternity leave for a maximum of 54 working days. Of this, the father can be at home at the same time as the mother for a maximum of 18 working days, i.e. approximately 3 weeks.|
|Norway||Mothers can take 49 weeks at full pay or 59 weeks at 80% pay, and fathers can take between zero and 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income. Together, parents can receive an additional 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income.|
|Denmark||In total, parents in Denmark are entitled to 52 weeks of paid parental leave. Fathers are entitled to take 2 weeks of leave during the first 14 weeks after the birth of the child. Then 32 weeks follow where the mother and father can freely share leave between them.|
|Italy||Paternity leave (‘congedo di paternità’) includes a seven-day compulsory paid leave period which can be taken separately and can be claimed within 5 months from the child’s birth, granted at the same time as the maternity paid leave.|
|France||The duration of paternity leave is set at 11 consecutive days, or 18 consecutive days in the event of a multiple birth.|
|Spain||On 1st April 2019, paternity leave in Spain was extended from 5 to 8 weeks. On 1st January 2020, it was further extended to 12 weeks. On 1st January 2021 it was extended a further 4 weeks for a total of 16 weeks, making fathers’ paid time off equal to paid maternity leave for the first time in Spain’s history.|
|Netherlands||Fathers are entitled to 5 weeks of paternity leave (‘vaderschapsverlof’), at a rate of 70% of one’s regular pay.|
|Poland||All insured fathers are entitled to 2 weeks of paid paternity leave (‘urlop ojcowski’), which can be used until the child is 24 months old.|
|Portugal||Paternity leave in Portugal is allowed for working fathers for 5 consecutive days after the birth of the baby, plus an additional 10 days within 30 days of the birth, which do not need to be consecutive.|
Why is it that under Maltese law, mothers are entitled to several weeks of maternity leave, whereas fathers are only entitled to 1 single day of paternity leave? Aren’t fathers also a parent of the newborn child?
In 2021, you would expect that the amount of paternity leave has been brought on par with that of maternity leave, however unfortunately, it is still not the case in several countries, including Malta.
Work-life balance remains an important aspect in a healthy work environment and undoubtedly improves one’s quality of life. Malta has a long way to go and the implementation of the new Work-Life Balance Directive definitely constitutes the first step in this much-awaited journey.