While working mothers deserve a reasonable length of maternity leave, this must be viewed in the light of present paid leaves and a whole other assortment of additional paid leaves and holidays now pending in Congress.
There is a need to look at all these in totality, rather than in the narrow confines of a single bill, like Expanded Maternity Leave (EML), to achieve work-life balance without severely affecting the operational viability and competitiveness of Philippine industry.
Consider the following: as of January 2018, out of the estimated 44 million in the labor force, about 38 percent or 16.7 million are women. Of the total employed women, 64 percent or 10 million are within the child-bearing age of between 15 and 44 years old. With the move towards gender equality with more in the work force, these numbers can only increase further. Thus, the statement that EML will only affect a few in the work force is a bit misleading.
Under the present law Social Security System (SSS) reimburses employers’ advances made on maternity leaves up to P16k and limited to four deliveries only. Under EML there is no limit to the number of deliveries. This is a major shift of policy since it runs counter to the promotion of planned-parenthood under the Reproductive Health Act. Further, under the EML, employers will pay the salary differential for the total 105 days between the P16k which SSS will reimburse and the actual salary of women on maternity leave.
Given the large number of women in child-bearing-age in the workforce, the cost and disruptive impact of EML to SSS and firms cannot be ignored. Making it even worrisome is the need to fill up the maternal absence with temporary hires if contract employment may soon be prohibited once the security of tenure bill becomes law.
There are 190 members of ILO but only 34 countries have ratified its Convention 183 or the Maternity Protection Convention that provides for a 14-week or 98 days maternity leave benefits to women workers. Many emerging and developed economies have not ratified the Convention.
This ILO convention specifically requires payment of maternity leave benefits by the social security system, not employers, a model which many countries are practicing. In the United States and Australia, employers grant maternity leaves from 12 weeks to one year WITHOUT PAY.
Some have written to compare the Philippines to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia and Thailand, saying we have the lowest number in terms of paid maternity leaves at 60 days and 78 days for regular and caesarian delivery, respectively.
They left out Malaysia at 60 days. But this is an unfair comparison because under present laws we have 70 days more paid leaves for women on top of the existing maternity benefits such as solo parent leave, battered women leave and gynecological leaves, in addition to our numerous paid non working holidays. There are also pending bills for additional 120 days paid leaves for women such as increasing service incentive, school-related activities, major surgical operations, bereavement, leaves for legitimate spouses of OFW and many more.
Furthermore, our current paid holidays at 21 days put the Philippines at 52 percent more than the four Asean countries mentioned above without yet considering the additional proposed new paid non-working holidays of 13 days such as National Women’s Day, Indigenous People’s Day, Chinese New Year, Iglesia ni Cristo Day, Fallen 44 Day, National Cardiopulmonary Day, National Faith Day, Bible Day and Immaculate Conception Day, to mention some.
Altogether and in the light of our current economic condition which has the highest inflation rate in the region, highest power rate, high labor cost, depreciating currency, pending legislation like the 14th month pay and more frequent destructive natural calamities, employers are compelled to air grave concern about the future of business.
Employers are not insensitive to the needs of their women workers but they are deeply disturbed by the combined impact of EML, existing paid leaves/holidays and many pending bills granting even more paid leaves that create punishing uncertainties for business.