PKF’s pro­pos­als to im­prove fe­male worker par­tic­i­pa­tion

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - BUSINESS & FINANCE -

An­other con­cern which one hopes will be ad­dressed in the com­ing bud­get is the hous­ing mar­ket and the high rents that are par­tially at­trib­uted to the con­stant in­flow of for­eign work­ers. How­ever, for­eign work­ers con­trib­ute to taxes and pay so­cial con­tri­bu­tions which go to strengthen the State pen­sion fund even though most of them will not claim pen­sion ben­e­fits.

The lat­ter has been a bone of con­tention with the Com­mis­sion which con­cluded a study on the ad­e­quacy of the two-thirds pen­sion. This was re­cently car­ried out by the Eu­ro­pean So­cial Pro­tec­tion Com­mit­tee. In the con­text of ad­e­quate pen­sion sup­port, work­ers are en­cour­aged to pro­vide to­gether with the State for re­tire­ment ben­e­fits and there is con­stant ref­er­ence in pre-bud­get con­sul­ta­tion meet­ings on the need to but­tress pen­sions and im­prove the COLA mech­a­nism to cater for cost of liv­ing in­creases. This is even more im­por­tant at a time when there is a rel­a­tively fast rate of eco­nomic growth and per­ceived rise in in­fla­tion. This is­sue has a di­rect bear­ing on the propen­sity of fe­male work­ers to re-en­ter the job mar­ket af­ter ter­mi­nat­ing em­ploy­ment due to press­ing fam­ily com­mit­ments.

In view of such cir­cum­stances, PKF has up­graded its pre­vi­ous study con­cern­ing the low par­tic­i­pa­tion rate of women who work. This in­de­pen­dent study was car­ried out by PKF and not on be­half of any em­ployer union or as­so­ci­a­tion. The ex­er­cise was fi- that opt out of the labour force, the higher the loss to the econ­omy in terms of its hu­man re­source cap­i­tal.

These con­sid­er­a­tions led PKF Malta to in­ves­ti­gate women’s mo­ti­va­tion to work af­ter they raised their chil­dren as well as the mea­sures and con­di­tions that would en­cour­age them to stay or re­turn to work. These would in­clude flex­i­ble work­ing and re­duced hours timeta­bles, parental leave, ac­cess to board po­si­tions, high qual­ity child­care ser­vices and fis­cal in­cen­tives to name a few. This study also as­sesses the ideal poli­cies and mea­sures that would of­fer the right amount of flex­i­bil­ity to al­low moth­ers achieve a bal­ance be­tween work and fam­ily life, and en­cour­age their re­turn to the labour force.

A mix of qual­i­ta­tive and quan­ti­ta­tive data col­lec­tion meth­ods have been used to com­pile this study and an­swer our re­search ques­tions. In fact, sec­ondary data was used to an­a­lyse the cur­rent sit­u­a­tion in re­la­tion to Malta’s fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion rate. Ad­di­tion­ally, a sur­vey was car­ried out through a num­ber of face-to-face in­ter­views in a num­ber of lo­cal­i­ties, in­clud­ing; Val­letta, Birkirkara, Mosta and Sliema and com­ple­mented with an on­line sur­vey on so­cial me­dia pages specif­i­cally tar­get­ing moth­ers of a work­ing age. Fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion in Malta is still con­sid­er­ably lower than males al­though good progress was reg­is­tered. As at 2017, Euro­stat fig­ures show that the ac­tiv­ity rate for fe­males in Malta stood at 58.8 per cent, while that for males stood at 82.6 per cent. Over the past 10 years, from 2007 to 2017, fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion rate in­creased from 38.9 per cent in 2007, to 47.4 per cent in 2012 and up to 58.8 per cent in 2017. This im­plies that the fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion rate has in­creased con­sid­er­ably over the past 10 years, by ap­prox­i­mately 19.9 per­cent­age points. How­ever, this suc­cess should not be mis­in­ter­preted. When com­pared with the rest of EU mem­ber states, Malta lies in the bot­tom three in re­spect of fe­male ac­tiv­ity rates, sur­pass­ing only Italy and Ro­ma­nia. There­fore, one hopes the bud­get sur­plus for next year will be partly used to im­ple­ment more fe­male worker friendly schemes.

A rather wor­ry­ing as­pect is the gen­der em­ploy­ment gap which still stands at a high 25 per cent when com­pared to the EU (28) av­er­age at solely 11.4 per cent. Of­fi­cial sta­tis­tics in­di­cate that the gen­der pay gap in Malta has in­creased from 3.8 per cent in 2007, up to 11.5 per cent in 2014. The causes of a gen­der pay gap could be var­i­ous, very of­ten com­plex and even over­lap­ping in na­ture. While the num­ber of stu­dents en­rolled in post-sec­ondary and ter­tiary ed­u­ca­tion be­tween 2015 and 2016 was higher for fe­males (12,645 stu­dents) than males, (11,466 stu­dents), it could be that fe­males end up in work op­por­tu­ni­ties that have a nar­rower scope for fi­nan­cial re­ward be­cause of fam­ily com­mit­ments. The Na­tional Sta­tis­tics Of­fice shows that the av­er­age weekly hours worked by fe­males – 35.1 hours/week, is lower than that of males at 41.2 hours/week.

The tra­di­tional causes for drop­ping off the work­force are chil­dren’s up­bring­ing, the low avail­abil­ity of flex­i­ble hours and tele­work­ing and, equally im­por­tant, job sat­is­fac­tion. Re­spon­dents in the ed­u­ca­tion and train­ing ser­vices sec­tor opt for a sab­bat­i­cal of at least two years on the birth of their chil­dren and af­ter­wards man­age to seek a part-time job. Nat­u­rally, this leads to women fall­ing be­hind in their ca­reer pro­gres­sion. The study in­cluded in­ter­views with a num­ber of stake­hold­ers who are ac­tively in­volved in mat­ters re­lat­ing to fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion.

It is sad to note that fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion is per­ceived to be “sta­tus en­hanc­ing” and is re­garded as an ad­di­tional form of dis­pos­able in­come rather than con­sid­er­ing their pro­fes­sional ca­pa­bil­i­ties. Women need to be treated and be seen as a vi­tal part of the eco­nomic en­gine and not just a clog in the wheel. Fi­nally, it goes without say­ing that at a time when va­can­cies take a long time to be filled due to scarcity of hu­man re­sources, in­cen­tivis­ing higher fe­male par­tic­i­pa­tion will re­sult in a higher util­i­sa­tion of our in­tel­lec­tual cap­i­tal. It eases our ten­u­ous de­pen­dence on im­port­ing more for­eign work­ers. gmm@pkf­ Mr Man­gion is a se­nior part­ner at PKF, an au­dit and con­sul­tancy firm. He can be con­tacted at gmm@pkf­ or on +356 2149 3041

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