Employers’ Fury Over Using Leave for Sick Children

MEDIA ROOM

As reported by The Sunday Times of Malta, the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations is examining how to best introduce a proposed measure making it possible for parents to call in sick when their children are unwell.

A spokesman for the Social Dialogue Ministry said that studies being undertaken by the department were looking into how this proposal, which was an electoral pledge, could be introduced. He told The Sunday Times of Malta that although there was no specific time frame, it was hoped the proposal would be implemented “during the current legislature”.

“This measure will be presented to the social partners for their views and suggestions prior to its eventual implementation,” he added.

Enabling parents to use their sick leave when their children are unwell was originally proposed by the Nationalist Party in the run-up to last year’s general election and then adopted by the Labour Party in its electoral manifesto. The newspaper reported that the proposal instantly came under fire from employers, workers’ representatives and sociology experts, who insisted it would have an adverse effect on Malta’s competitiveness.

Employers were the most vociferous, saying they could never agree to a measure that encouraged absence from work rather than presence and therefore increased productivity. Malta Employers Association director-general Joe Farrugia said his organisation’s position on the matter was unchanged from March – it was “categorically against” any notions granting parents to call in sick when their children are unwell, whether as part of their sick leave entitlement or in addition to their personal entitlement.

“Sick leave is an individual entitlement that should not be transferable.

“Any idea that there will be a drop in abusive sick leave if such a measure is introduced is misguided.

“Sick leave is there to be taken if the individual employee truly needs it. It is unrelated to the medical condition of other parties,” he said.

He insisted that the net result of such a measure was that many parents would opt to take any available sick leave on the pretext of sick children “and the overall incidence of sick leave will increase”. He added that – if it was introduced as a family-friendly measure, the MEA would disagree with it on grounds that family-friendly measures should encourage presence at workplace and would not support any measure that increases absence. “The idea of free childcare is a positive measure since it will encourage work attendance. This sick leave proposal, however, will have the opposite effect and will definitely increase absenteeism,” he said.

In addition to this, Mr Farrugia said there was also an issue of verification.

“Some months ago we had an unhappy incidence of an unofficial industrial action by pilots that was backed by medical certification. How will employers really have their mind at rest that the absence is truly a result of sick children?

“How will the company doctor be involved in all this?” he said.

He also questioned which entity would bear the cost of this additional sick leave in cases where both parents work for different employers.

“Will both parents absent themselves from work, one to look after the child and another to paint the house at the employers’ expense?” he said.

“Irrespective of whether this measure is in force in other countries, it is still a crazy idea. I know that there will be people who accuse employers of being anti-social, but this is a result of myopia in this country that blinds some people to business realities and competitive challenges,” he said.

When the idea was first floated before the election, sociologist Godfrey Baldacchino, chairman of the university’s Centre for Labour Studies, had told Times of Malta that while such a measure would prevent working parents lying about their real reason for reporting sick, it was likely to increase the overall amount of sick leave with its corresponding effect on output and overall firm competitiveness.

He also explained that a study conducted in 2008 showed that while the average days lost per employee per year stood at 3.32 days in the private sector, this number climbed up to 8.34 days in the public sector. General Workers’ Union general secretary Tony Zarb also expressed caution at the time, saying that while such a proposal was “a plus” for workers, employers already mentioned their concerns to the union.