Myopic view of maternity leave
The impending enactment of a law increasing maternity leave benefits to 105 days from the current 60 days has drawn adverse reaction from the Employers Confederation of the Philippines (Ecop).
Its acting president, Sergio Ortiz-Luis, said in a press conference that if the expanded maternity bill becomes a law, employers would choose male employees over female employees. And because of this, female employment may decrease in the next five years.
It is unclear if his statement was a product of prior consultations with Ecop members or simply his gut feeling. And why five years and not earlier?
The “concern” raised by Ortiz-Luis is Ecop’s usual refrain (or knee-jerk reaction) every time the labor sector or some members of Congress propose legislative measures giving additional employment benefits to employees.
Thus, for example, whenever an upward adjustment in the minimum wage is sought by labor organizations, Ecop always objects to it on the ground it will force small- or medium-scale enterprises to lay off their employees or close shop due to higher operating costs.
There had been several increases in the minimum wage in the past years but the feared massive business closures or job losses did not materialize. The national economy continues to grow despite periodic wage increases, and Ecop members have benefited from that as well.
Contrary to the bugaboo raised, giving Filipino mothers more time to nurse their newborn babies will not be a drag on domestic productivity. It may even enhance it.
Note that four of our economically progressive Asean neighbors give their female employees longer maternity leaves, namely, Vietnam, 180 days; Singapore, 112 days; Indonesia and Thailand, 90 days each. Their experience on this issue cannot be brushed aside as anecdotal.
It is doubtful if a longer maternity leave will discourage employers from hiring female employees. The additional operational costs this benefit would entail are not expected to be a deal breaker, so to speak.
Businesses that require meticulous close work such as food processing and clothes manufacturing, which women are adept at, would opt to bite the bullet on longer maternity leaves instead of replacing them with male employees.
As the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. The alternative may even be worse.
The alleged disincentive to employ female employees seems to rest on the assumption they would go on maternity leave en masse at the same time or in successive periods during the year and, as a result, disrupt business operations.
This conjures the scenario of female employees of a company meeting and agreeing among themselves after the expanded maternity leave bill becomes a law on the timing of their pregnancies and enjoyment of that benefit.
That scene may make a good movie script, but the reality on the ground is different, especially in these times of high inflation.
Bear in mind the principal beneficiaries of the 105-day maternity leave are nursing female employees who do not have the financial capacity to pay for the services for nannies for their newborn babies when they have to immediately go back to work lest they lose their job for being absent without leave.
The additional days of maternity leave will give Filipino mothers the opportunity to bond with their babies and, at the same time, recuperate from the stress of their delivery before they go back to work.
The expanded maternity leave bill addresses an important family issue that has been put in the back burner for ages by our male-dominated society.
It’s time Congress to give Filipino women a well-deserved additional break from a task and responsibility that only they—and no one else—can perform.
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