Family friendly measures (FFMs) have become the newest buzzwords in today’s labour market. They are discussed on TV, in political speeches and at European Commission (EC) hearings; and can be read on countless sites online. But what are FFMs?
FFMs are incentives provided by employers to their employees, men and women, to reconcile their work responsibilities and their private lives. Different forms of leave (maternity, parental and responsibility leave), flexitime, reduced hours, teleworking (working remotely), career breaks and job-sharing are but some of the measures that employees may benefit from.
The government, an employer of approximately 50,000 people, is a leading advocate for FFMs in Malta. Reduced hours, teleworking and flexitime are examples of what is available to all public service and public sector employees, regardless of their employment status (PSMC, 2016). In the private sector, the scenario is somewhat different, as it is entirely up to the employer to offer FFMs, other than those stipulated by legislation.
One might wonder why Malta remains on the lower end of work-life scheduled flexibility when compared to other EU Member States[i]. Does it have to do with how society portrays gender roles? Is the setting-up of internal policies to implement family friendly measures too bureaucratic? Are employers overly sceptical on the monitoring of their employees’ performance? Perceptions like these may be discouraging employers from offering FFMs.
Yet, employers who offer FFMs often observe favourable results. They tend to benefit from a comparatively motivated workforce, reduced stress-levels among employees, a higher level of productivity and in turn, higher profits. Governments of countries such as Sweden and Finland, the EU’s bellwethers in this space, contribute through the provision of fiscal incentives to private sector employers that offer FFMs for men and women. Companies such as Netflix, Etsy and Change.org have willingly extended gender-blind FFMs, such as paid parental leave to all the men and women within their workforce. These developments resulted from the belief that such policies serve to retain talented parents and thus, strengthen their employee base in general. The provision of gender-inclusive FFMs in the workplace benefits both employers and employees. In fact, FFMs benefit society as a whole.
The labour market in Malta has made significant strides in terms of the provision of FFMs over the past 35 years, starting with the introduction of maternity leave. However, the EU’s Labour Force Survey shows that there is yet still a long way to go. Statistics show that employees, particularly men, are not exploiting the FFMs they are offered. It could be due to a gender pay gap, a perception that men must be the breadwinners of the family; there are countless possible reasons. For some, notably within the private sector, FFMs are simply not made available. Whatever the reason, something must be done about it; fast! Policy makers are striving to increase women’s participation in the labour market, to increase the birth rate and to have a population of active citizens. A person should not have to choose between a caring and a professional role. But how can we achieve a work-life balance for all? How can private sector employers be incentivised to offer or extend the provision of FFMs to men and women in the workplace? How can we promote FFMs from mere buzzwords to an actuality within the Maltese labour market?
 PSMC Website
“This publication has been produced with the financial support of the Rights, Equality and Citizenship Programme of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of the National Commission for the Promotion of Equality and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Commission”.