It is tough for us to balance our work and our personal life, but add kids to the mix and the going gets really tough, especially for women.
This week, Malta sets the stage for Real Economy’s peek into the baby steps that are being taken and what is desperately needed to ensure that Europe’s mothers and fathers have what they need to have the children our aging population desperately needs.
- Fewer women than men across Europe work. Fewer than in Japan, the US or Switzerland. A situation that is unlikely to change, even by 2038.
- But in different parts of Europe, the story is different.
- That gap widens once women have children. The younger the child, the less likely mothers stay in, or join the labour market.
- And in some countries the gap is as wide as 30 percent.
- But the opposite holds true for European fathers:
- Europe has minimum leave by law for new parents.
- Maternity on average is 17 and a half weeks
- Some countries are generous with time and allowances. Some decide by the number of children, and others offer less time off.
- Parental leave, which can be shared between parents, ranges. But many fathers do not use it. Just 10 percent take paternity leave when it is offered.
- Italian dads get one day, Maltese are offered two,and Slovenian dads get a generous 90 days on almost full pay.
- However some fathers do not get any.
Huge difference in childcare across Europe
The decision to go back to work for many of us comes down to childcare costs, which differ across Europe. Two children in full-time care can cost parents in Ireland and the UK close to 40 percent of average wage.
But take a look at Austria, Sweden, Estonia, Portugal or even Spain where it is only about five percent. But more than half of European mums, say their decision to go back to work part time or not at all comes down to hefty childcare costs.
Availability, access and hours, as Fanny Gauret found here in Malta and across Europe, all have an impact.
Working days start early for the Vella family of three young children. In the EU’s smallest member state, four in five men are working, but only 1 in every 2 women is.
In 2014, Malta introduced free childcare for parents at work or in education, saving families 10,000 euros over 3 years.
“I see there are a lot of advantages, for example, there is the fact that it is easier for the mum to say, ‘look… I would like to go back to work,’ if that’s what she wants, to be able to do that because obviously financially it’s good.” the family’s father Bernard Vella told Euronews.
Projections show an increase of almost 7 percent of mothers returning or staying in work after maternity leave, compared to 2013.
“It allowed me to continue working, and I went back to work for my second child after four months and after her after six months. I can work many more hours, it’s a personal choice that I don’t,” explained Mairi Vella. “I had my first child in Australia in 2011. The childcare [facilities] were actually all full, and we had to get a nanny initially and it was 250 dollars a day, so we decided that it would be better to come back to Malta.”
Interview with Malta’s finance minister – part one
To help us look at Malta’s childcare scheme as part of a bigger economic picture, joining us now is the country’s finance minister – Professor Edward Scicluna.
Maithreyi Seetharaman, Euronews: “Looking at the childcare scheme and its structure, what impact have you have seen on the economy and employment so far?”
Professor Edward Scicluna, Finance Minister: “Well the impact was as expected, perhaps even more. You know we had a very high female participation after that – but you have to look at the background —-we had a low female participation and although there were lots of excuses of why so…religious or cultural and so on – the real truth is obstacles. Economically, it costs a parent or a mother to send to a child care center, more than she would earn..so there was no interest.”
Maithreyi Seetharaman: “Why not look at it in a wider picture of paternity and maternity leave?”
Professor Edward Scicluna:
“Well maternity leave also was in the picture. We thought by extending by another four weeks – it had a very positive effect, because it all boils down to economic reason. There were other reforms which helped such as helping families, specially on low incomes.We made a deal, whereby they will get a salary but at the same time keep a part of the benefits. Two-thirds in the first year, 45 percent second year..and 25….And that has released as well a number from long term unemployed..and in Malta’s context – thousands are big numbers.”
Most of Europe, like Malta has been focused on shorter term issues arising from the financial crisis, rather than things like maternity and paternity leaves and getting women back into work. So here is a snapshot of what the picture looks like right now and what needs to change.
There is a large diversity of parental leave and allowances in Europe. For example, Malta’s private sector applies the minimal duration of 4 months per parent, unpaid.
“We believe that such issues are better tackled on a case by case basis, than to have legislative measures that might make it impossible to implement,” said Joseph Farrugia, President of Malta Employers’ Association. “One would try to establish a common denominator which would be applicable to all the countries with their different labour markets without having adverse effects. This is the main challenge of harmonisation.”
In Malta, women are considered to be the family’s main carer.
I think the father needs to be better supported,” said Mairi Vella. “They need to be given the same opportunity as the mothers, basically, sometimes the mother is the highest bread winner. I have worked very hard for my career, studied a lot… so I wouldn’t give it up. And at least now it’s not difficult to do that.”
The Free Childcare Scheme boosted mothers’ working hours, contributing about two million euros to Malta’s small economy.
Interview with Malta’s finance minister – part two
Maithreyi Seetharaman, Euronews: “What’s been your experience when it comes to attitudes of getting women back to work between unions and employers and how do you get them both [around] the table?”
Professor Edward Scicluna, Finance Minister: “Well when they are around the table and they you know see..that it…the big picture – its in the interest of all they would. But as you see, you have to consult, you cant just ride roughshod on them and expect that they will react.”
Maithreyi Seetharaman: “From your experiences what would you say are the right kind of tools to give to young mothers and fathers to get women back into work after maternity?”
Professor Edward Scicluna:
“Some countries are more advanced in terms of participation while others are less so – So, and the same for maternity leave.– So, I’m afraid then it depends on the state of development and where they stand. But there’s big chunk of countries where they are in that position – who can improve the labour supply through social means.
we..decreased the income tax – because income tax is a tax on work and moved it gradually onto consumption. SO part of the package were the middle income people especially who have a big load of income tax on them, easing them off would help people because you made work pay. Its very simple words but its very effective.”
Maithreyi Seetharaman: “Minister on that note, thank you for addressing a critical issue that sometimes feels like it gets put on the back burner a lot – and thank you for watching – We’ll catch you next time.”