180-day maternity leave: The downside
FULL DISCLOSURE - Fidel O. Abalos (The Freeman) - January 24, 2016 - 9:00am

When election year comes, expect a lot of image-building and vote-getting initiatives from politicians.  Definitely, this year is no exception. While we can’t discount the possibility that they (proponents) have honest intentions, the timing (as it is election year) and the gist (more often, the substance is so one-sided) of their initiatives are highly questionable.

For instance, recently, Rep. Manny Pacquiao filed House Bill 3590 “giving mothers working in government and the private sector the right to take half a year off from their jobs to be with their babies.” Specifically, his bill provides “maternity leave equivalent to 180 days or six months with full pay to all women workers in the private and government sectors.”

Curiously, he filed his bill while the Senate just passed SB 2982 (the Act Increasing the Maternity Period to 100 days), on third and final reading with no opposition at the plenary last Monday.  Similarly, this senate bill that is sponsored by Senator Pia S. Cayetano, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Women, Children, Family Relations and Gender Equality, is also “envisioned to benefit the labor sector by expanding the maternity leave of female workers in both the public and private sector from 60 days to 100 days”.

If Sen. Cayetano’s bill becomes a law, we shall be two days more than the 14-week (or 98 days) International Labor Organization’s (ILO) standard.  Consequently, we shall be among other compliant countries like Vietnam (which leads Asia with six-month maternity leave), Mongolia (120 days), Bangladesh (16 weeks), Singapore (16 weeks) and China (14 weeks).  Noticeably, only Vietnam is way up.  Clearly, other poor and progressive countries in Asia are just either a little over what ILO established or way below.

Indeed, the role of women in society has truly evolved.  Then, they were mere child bearers or worse, just sex objects.  They had no rights at all to speak about.  They can’t vote, they can’t drive, they can’t even get employed or earn a living.  In fact, they were not wives, just their husbands’ servants.

In recent years, except for a few countries, their roles have truly changed for the better.  We are now witnesses of how they’ve become great international and national leaders in almost all of aspects of governance, whether private or public.  Women Prime Ministers, Presidents and Senators abound and lady Chairs, Presidents and CEOs are likewise in great numbers in internationally known and very influential multinational companies all over the globe.

Moreover, there are industries where we see more women in the workforce than men.  Since, as child bearers, such role is irreplaceable, it is understandable that concerns on their welfare should not be overlooked.  So that, as we try to look into their wellbeing, we shall take a look at HB 3590 (filed by Rep. Pacquiao) and SB 2982 (filed by Sen. Cayetano) more intently and evaluate all the pros and cons.

Largely, anything that addresses welfare of our women, in general, and those with the workforce, in particular, will always be good.  In the meantime, however, let us examine the facts and the possible outcomes before concluding.

First and foremost, Rep. Pacquiao’s bill (180-day maternity leave), if approved, could possibly impede employment of women.  Potential employers may no longer consider hiring women for reasons of cost and availability.  These are both efficiency concerns that employers will always give ample considerations.  As they always say, even if the employee is 100 percent good, if she isn’t there, then, she is a 0 percent performer.  She shall tantamount to nothing.

Admittedly though, the current 60-day maternity leave is a bit short.  Rep. Pacquiao’s180-day maternity leave (3 times of what exist) is too long, is self-serving (for his Senate ambitions) and, is hands down, ridiculous.So that, Sen. Cayetano’s bill could be the happy and mutually beneficial compromise.  It is well-studied and clothed with honest intentions.

However, this bill (SB2982) could have been enhanced a bit.  The proponent and the other members in the senate should have considered other options or possibilities especially those that are used successfully by other countries.  For instance, countries, like New Zealand or Iceland call it as “parental leave”.  Though we have our own fixed paternity leave, their “parental leave” is entirely different.  Totally different in that while there is mandatory number of days allocated for the mother (and they call it birth leave), the other days are transferrable to the husband.  This is good because some families have working mothers and househusbands.  With this setup, the working mother can return to work and the child can still be taken cared well enough.  Additionally, a breastfeeding area may be designated in every institution.  This way, the househusband will have the opportunity to bring the child to the mother for breastfeeding.

With this setup, the employers shall profit from the mothers’ presence and the children, shall, likewise, benefit from the generally accepted breastfeeding options.  Definitely, therefore, a win-win situation.


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