Tue, May 16, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Maternity leave plan already stirring debate

BIRTH SUBSIDY A proposal to give new mothers and fathers a NT$13,500 monthly subsidy is far from becoming law, but has already drawn many skeptical responses

By Shelley Shan  /  STAFF REPORTER

A pregnant woman relaxes in Taipei's Da-an Park on Sunday.

PHOTO: SHELLEY SHAN, TAIPEI TIMES

To all the mom-wannabes, moms-to-bes, or moms who wish to give birth to another child but have been hesitant to do so, the incentive package proposed by the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) last week seemed like encouraging news.

Under the CLA's proposal -- which is intended to help boost the nation's sagging birth rate -- women on maternity leave would receive monthly compensation of NT$13,500 (US$422) for six months. Husbands who ask for paternity leave would receive the same amount of compensation, in a bid to encourage more fathers to share parenting responsibilities at an early stage of a child's development. The employment insurance fund, which most of the nation's workers pay into, would be used to fund the policy.

The CLA proposals will be introduced at the national, cross-party economic forum planned for next month, then sent to the Executive Yuan for review.

The proposals would have to be passed by the legislature in order to be implemented.

But in the meantime, the proposal has already generated a whirlwind of debate among labor and women rights groups and the public at large.

Insufficient amount?

Wang Juan-ping (王娟萍), spokesperson for the Labor Rights Association (LRA), has expressed doubts on whether the policy will truly protect women's interests, and whether it is true to the spirit of the Gender Equality Employment Law (兩性工作平等法), which was implemented in 2002.

"We laughed as soon as we saw the amount [NT$13,500], which is ludicrous," Wang said, "Of course you can always say it is better than nothing, but the policy is simply filled with hypocrisy."

Wang said that by law, both mothers and fathers are entitled to up to two years of parental leave. When the total monthly amount that a person could claim under the new proposals is divided by 24, it therefore boils down to just over NT$3,000 a month for that two-year period.

Wang added that on average, women in Taiwan earn 20 to 30 percent less than men, so that the man's income is typically a family's main revenue source. The proposed subsidy for fathers is therefore not big enough to encourage most men to forfeit their normal salary, she said.

Using the employment insurance fund for payment is also questionable, she said, since it would exclude a lot of people who are not covered by the insurance.

Under the proposal, only mothers or fathers who pay into employment insurance would be eligible for the subsidy -- which means that the CLA's proposal would create another form of legal inequality.

"The fundamental solution is for the government to budget additional funds for this," she said.

Broader issues

While recognizing that the proposed subsidies for mothers and fathers are better than nothing, legal experts at the Awakening Foundation called attention to broader issues that need to be addressed -- including the nation's imperfect childcare system and the discriminatory practices against pregnant women that are still prevalent in the workplace.

The foundation also said that women are often threatened with being fired and forced to take pay cuts, because some employers refuse to reimburse their wages while they are on maternity leave.

Dagmar Yu (尤美女), an attorney and one of the foundation's board members, pointed out that although the law states that "an employer hiring more than two hundred and fifty employees shall set up childcare facilities or provide suitable childcare measures," a CLA survey has indicated that only 38.7 percent of the corporations in Taiwan that fit this description have complied with regulations.

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