The Malta Independent 15 October 2021, Friday

Family and flexibility

Claudette Buttigieg Thursday, 7 October 2021, 07:57 Last update: about 8 days ago

This week, in the run-up to the next general election, Partit Nazzjonalista continued to publish more proposals. This is the fruit of all the hard work put into the policy clusters set up by PN and led by Claudio Grech.

I have the privilege of working in Cluster 1: Social Well-being. This cluster, made up of MPs, candidates, and experts, has been debating issues and producing material for the past several months and it will be published in the near future. The proposals launched this week continue on those published last week on Work-Life Balance.

Among these proposals, four focus on flexibility on working time and place.

In a nutshell, we are promising that a new PN government, led by Bernard Grech, will give the right to ALL workers to request flexibleworking hours and/or flexibility on where they work from (be it home, the traditional workplace or any other place) as long as productivity is honoured. Such requests must be reasonable.

We are also proposing that requests for flexibility can only be refused by the employer in writing and that such refusals must be justified.

These very practical proposals have one aim, the creation of a balance between the family life and working life. They are not aimed solely at women. This is not exclusively a women’s issue. Neither are they aimed only at parents.

ALL workers should be given these possibilities. Some will need the flexibility for childcare but others might need it to care for older parents or relatives who need help and assistance. Such flexibility may also be requested by people who want to pursue their studies or are fully committed to training in a sports activity.

The proposals are based on a hybrid working model where a balance is found between the needs of the workers and the need of the business. It aims at bringing workers in a closer relationship to the working place, but it ultimately makes the working place more humane. Productivity remains key but not at the expense of the rounded well-being and fulfilment of the workers.

Are we going out on a limb here? Absolutely not.

The PN initiative follows the EU Directive on Work-Life Balance, which was passed by the European Parliament in April 2019, and entered into force on 1 August 2019. Our very own MEP David Casa was the Rapporteur for this Directive for the European Parliament. David is obviously a member of the Cluster for Social Well-Being which produced this set of proposals in collaboration with MNPN (Moviment Nisa Partit Nazzjonalista).

The PN proposals are going a step further than the Directive. While the Directive caters for working parents of young children up to the age of eight, our proposals are for all workers.

Last Tuesday, the Harvard Business Review published a paper which tackled these same issues. Penned by Ellen Ernst Kossek, Patricia Gettings, and Kaumudi Misra, it is called “The Future of Flexibility at Work.”

The authors argue cogently for the need for flexibility at the place of work and the negative consequences for those businesses who do not embrace flexibility. They do so mainly through the lessons learnt from the pandemic and the COVID-related restrictions we all had to face while continuing with our lives from home.

The authors list three main reasons in favour of flexibility in a hybrid working model:

“First, businesses believe that the 24/7 remote-work form of flexibility can be leveraged to support productivity. Second, employees — especially Millennials — are threatening to quit unless they’re granted flexibility. Third, some leaders assume that when employees are permitted to work flexibly, they automatically experience more harmony in their work-life balance.”

While making a strong argument against the “gender-siloed” issues, Kossek, Gettings and Misra make a strong appeal to employers: “Make flexibility available to all employees. Every job deserves some flexibility. Even if telework isn’t always an option, organizations should offer flexibility to both office and frontline workers. It cannot be viewed as a scarce or privileged resource. Yet all too often that’s what happens.”

They add: “Companies ignore the needs of essential and hourly workers, providing flexibility only to knowledge workers on technology-driven teams.”

I feel very proud of the proposals we have put forward so far and will be putting forward soon. Labour makes a pretence of mocking our proposals but ultimately, as the record shows, they copy our ideas and make them their own.

That said, a copy remains a copy. Everybody knows that it was PN who first put forward the idea of an underground metro. To see it now presented by Labour is proof of the value of the idea. Sadly, Labour left out areas of Malta (namely the South and Gozo) —proving their lack of vision for the whole country.

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