Since 2014, self-employed women are eligible to maternity benefits and free childcare services previously reserved to employees.
While maternity benefits have been in place since 1987 under the Social Security Act (SSA) and employees’ children had access to free childcare, self-employed women were not covered until a 2012 law effective in 2014. The change was introduced to increase female employment and entrepreneurship and help families achieve better work-life balance. The reform became effective from April 2014 onwards. This was done as part of a series of amendments to the Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA) introduced to respond to changes on the labour market.
Self-employed women are eligible to a maternity benefit of up to EUR 179.33 per week for 14 weeks (in comparison to the flat rate of EUR 97.84 per week for employees).
All self-employed women qualify if they are a Maltese citizen, married to a Maltese citizen, an European Union citizen, a citizen of a Member State of the European Social Charter1, or a refugee who ordinarily resides in Malta or Gozo. The self-employed women must claim the benefits in the eighth month of their pregnancy or within the six months following childbirth, with a signed declaration of medical practitioner.
Self-employed women can make use of the government’s Free Childcare Scheme (FCS) and place their children within registered childcare centres or in government-provided childcare service institutions. FCS are open to children between the age of three months and three years. When applying, self-employed women need to provide proof of their self-employment situation and a (fixed or flexible) schedule to enable the proper function of the FCS.
How did the programme adapt to the Pandemic?
Malta experienced a forced closure of all its FCS centres in 2020 due to COVID-19. The centres had to adapt upon re-opening in mid-June 2020, hence limiting the support that the FCS could grant to self-employed women during this period.
Use of maternity benefits has slowly decreased over the years, with the decline starting prior to the 2014 reform. 2 615 maternity benefit plans were handed out in 2009, 2 116 in 2013, and 1 400 in 2019. Contrastingly, the number of children in free childcare more than doubled from 2017 to 2019 (from over 6 000 in 2017 to 15 800 in 2019). The share of self-employed and self-occupied women among beneficiaries is not publicly available. The self-employment rate has increased more among women than in the national average in Malta between 2014 and 2019 (+ 39% vs. + 15%) although it is not possible to measure the potential contribution of the reform to this increase.
European Commission, ‘Employment, Social Affairs and Inclusion: Malta’: https://ec.europa.eu/social/main.jsp?catId=1121&langId=en&intPageId=4691
Public Service of Malta (2021), “Maternity Benefits Overview”, www.servizz.gov.mt/en/Pages/Inclusion_-Equality-and-Social-Welfare/Social-Solidarity/Benefits-and-Services/WEB648/default.aspx
Public Service of Malta (2020), Free Childcare Scheme (FCS), https://education.gov.mt/freechildcare/Documents/FCS%20leaflet%202020.pdf
Public Service of Malta (2020), Free childcare, https://jobsplus.gov.mt/free-childcare
Public Service of Malta (2020), Press release www.gov.mt/en/Government/DOI/Press%20Releases/Pages/2020/June/08/pr201082en.aspx
The Independent (2017), “over 6 000 children are using free childcare scheme twww.independent.com.mt/articles/2017-11-18/local-news/Over-6-000-children-are-using-free-child-care-scheme-6736181561
Malta Today (2019), “More than 15,800 children benefitting from free childcare services”, www.maltatoday.com.mt/news/national/92642/more_than_15800_children_benefitting_from_free_childcare_services#.YIBBQO4zbSE
Public Service of Malta (2020), Self-employed v. self-occupied government definition, https://gemma.gov.mt/retirement-income/defining-the-term-self-employed/
Social Security Act (SSA) art 71, https://legislation.mt/eli/cap/318/eng/pdf
Employment and Industrial Relations Act (EIRA), https://legislation.mt/eli/act/2012/16/eng/pdf
Social Security Department (2020) Annual Reports https://socialsecurity.gov.mt/en/annual-reports/