PKF’s proposals to improve female worker participation
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. firstname.lastname@example.org Mr Mangion is a senior partner at PKF, an audit and consultancy firm. He can be contacted at email@example.com or on +356 2149 3041