New maternity leave

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Writing about the expanded maternity leave bill, soon-to-be law once signed by the President, is like running down a slippery slope.

Working mothers deserve longer maternity leaves for reasons of health, well-being, and proper caring of their newborn child. This is a given. However, while this need is paramount, there is also the concomitant duty to balance the need for and of work. Current economic realities of increasing competition, and changing work environment, requires having an appropriate work-life balance that does not disproportionately favor one to the detriment of the other.

While maternal rest after child-birth is an important factor to consider, it is equally essential, from a broader perspective, to determine the impact of further increasing such leaves, together with existing paid leaves and pending bills granting additional leaves, on the economy, in general and the operation of an enterprise in particular.

Before the new bill granting a 105-day maternity leave, working moms enjoyed a 60 and 78 maternity leaves for regular or and caesarian delivery, respectively.

Our country is a signatory and a member in good standing of the International Labour Organization (ILO). ECOP, together with its member companies, is supportive and will fully comply with the expanded maternity benefit once it is passed into law
However, as of this writing, the copy of the bill is still unavailable but concerns are already being raised at various fora by both women workers and employers alike.

Working moms are asking if the 105 days maternity leave is mandatory on the part of workers. Can they opt, for whatever reasons, to report for work before completing the 105-day leave, with a fit to work certificate from a licensed obstetrician and can employers be compelled to accept their return.

Moreover, women workers who will be on maternity leave under this bill have expressed apprehension that they might be bypassed for promotion due to their prolonged absence from work. Likewise for the same reason, women job applicants of child bearing age worry that employers might discriminate against them.

On the side of MSME employers, there is an equal anxiety even as they accept the rationale for this bill. Especially troubling to them is the possible impact of this expanded maternity leave law on their company productivity, efficiency, competitiveness and expected organizational setback when a large number of women workers go on extended maternity leave at the same time and temporary hires or contract employment during this period may soon be outlawed by the security of tenure bill.

A wise guy quips that this bill seemingly contradicts the reproductive health law which promotes population control under responsible parenthood while the expanded maternity leave law inspires child bearing and population growth.

This bill which increases leave benefits for women, he continues, reinforces his cynical opinion that gender equality in our society is hypocritical and women are still regarded as the weaker sex. Accordingly, the present labor laws and pending bills may have unwittingly propagated this notion by granting women more paid annual leaves than men.

Some of the existing annual paid and proposed leaves totaling 190 days which are only available exclusively for women are battered women leave (10 days) and gynecological procedure (60 days), on top of pending bills which include surgical operation of reproductive organs (90 days) and internal organ operation (30 days).

It may seem unfair to compare the number of benefits accorded our women workers versus their male counterpart. But it could serve as a reminder to our lawmakers to temper their zeal in promoting too many paid leaves for women as it could unintentionally and ultimately discriminate against them with negative impact on their employment and career advancement potentials.

This narrative is a work in progress until the final copy of the bicam version is published.

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