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Employers have voiced their disapproval at a proposal put forward by Government to allow working parents to use their sick leave entitlement to look after their sick children.

The Malta Employers’ Association (MEA) was reacting to the Children’s Policy Framework, a public consultation document that was presented by Government on Monday, World Children’s Day. In the document, Government proposed a number of measures aimed at supporting working parents, prioritising the improvement of children’s wellbeing, families with children, providing a better environment for children, and also strengthening child participation.

A notable measure is the evaluation of the currently policy related to family leave, aiming to provide working parents with children under four years of age with more family-friendly and work-life balance policies. This includes the extension of the urgent family leave, currently set at 15 hours per year, to 30 hours per year. Should a child be ill, the hours will be deducted from an employee’s sick leave entitlement, rather than their annual leave, as is currently the case. Government stated that this depends on the presentation of a medical certificate of the dependent person.

Additionally, Government also proposed incentivising employers to encourage them to provide working parents with remote and flexible working arrangements. This is set to be done in order for parents and guardians to be able to spend more time with their children.

Reacting to this, the MEA stated that the Children’s Policy Framework could be a “step forward” in introducing measures to improve the wellbeing of children and of families in general.

While the document includes a number of “positive measures”, the association is strongly opposed the use of the sick leave entitlement to look after sick children. It said that sick leave should be used specifically for when an employee is deemed unfit for work, and should hence “never be transferred to other persons”.

The introduction of this measure could end up being “impossible to control” by employers and may potentially lead to “abusive practices” from employees, the MEA said.

A similar proposal had first been put forward in 2017 ahead of the general election by the Nationalist Party before it was taken on board by the Labour Party. However, employers had similarly voiced their disapproval at employees being able to use their sick leave entitlement for when their children are unwell, and the idea failed to materialise.

Additionally, the association expressed a lack of trust in doctors’ ethical standards, citing “recent scandals of having sickness certificates given over the phone, and the exposure of a widespread organised system of benefit fraud”.

The MEA stressed that the urgent family leave entitlement already makes it possible for employees to address family emergencies.

Aside from focusing on leave entitlement, the MEA also emphasised that the document must be consistent with other recently-introduced policies. The association felt that it was “confusing” that Government is seeking to promote a smoke-free society, while simultaneously legalising the use of marijuana.

This comes as Government recently suggested the initiation of discussions for the banning of cigarette sales to people born after a certain date, in a bid to create a smoke-free generation.

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