Tue, Jan 16, 2007 - Page 8 News List

Maternity benefits: A different perspective

By Huang Yi-ling 黃怡翎

A few days ago, a labor insurance provision related to pregnancy leave passed its first reading in the Legislative Yuan. In the future, another two months of paid maternity leave will be granted. A recent article in the Liberty Times, the Taipei Times' sister newspaper, argued that shifting the responsibility of covering maternity leave compensation from employers to the labor insurance would be no different from placing the onus on employees themselves, which makes the provision an accomplice in the oppression of workers. The article also argued that it is a gift from legislators that will bleed workers and please businesses.

The paper clearly believes that the passage of the new maternity leave-related provision is by and large no different from helping employers shuffle their responsibilities onto the shoulders of employees. I would like to offer a few suggestions from a different perspective.

The discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace has long been a serious problem that impacts career women of childbearing age. According to statistics published by the Council of Labor Affairs, complaints related to women's pregnancy made up 53.83 percent of all the cases of discrimination complaints handled by employment discrimination evaluation committees in Taiwan from 1991 to 1993.

Labor law in the UK, France, Finland, Norway, Denmark and other European nations provide salary compensation for pregnant employees from social welfare funds, rather than placing the onus on to employers. In order to resolve the pregnancy discrimination problem facing Taiwanese women, many women's groups have long advocated using public financial sources to pay the salary compensation of female workers on maternity leave.

In other words, they think that the pregnancy should be considered a matter of national interest. Thus, the responsibility for relevant costs should be shared by society as a whole, rather than foisting the responsibility off onto employers. This idea has also won the support of labor groups. It was passed by the Cabinet's Conference on Sustaining Taiwan's Economic Development and it also recently passed a first legislative reading.

I want to clarify that the idea of using public funds to pay salary compensation for career women on maternity leave is based on the insurance's risk-sharing functions, rather than on exploiting laborers. Under today's labor insurance program, 70 percent of the premiums are paid by employers, 20 percent by employees and only 10 percent by the government. In other words, employers still pay most of the premiums. Thus, it is incorrect to say that the burden is shifted onto employees.

Furthermore, covering maternity leave compensation through the labor insurance will also benefit women who do not have a single employer or who are self-employed and thus pay their own insurance. Under the new system these women will also be entitled to maternity leave. The new provision will also ease the discrimination problems for the majority of easily replaceable female workers of childbearing age with low salaries.

Making pregnancy a public issue is an advanced idea adopted by societies around the world who pursue gender equality. Pregnancy is not a personal matter, but a social matter, especially in these days of declining birth rates.

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