Sat, Oct 28, 2006 - Page 2 News List

Baby leave reform nearer reality

DADDY'S HOME Whether to boost labor rights or prop up a falling birth rate, the government is pushing for a combined leave entitlement for the nation's new parents

By Angelica Oung and Wang Pei-hua  /  STAFF REPORTERS

In a move to boost the nation's flagging birth rate, the Council of Labor Affairs (CLA) has approved a major upgrade in maternity and paternity benefits.

It also confirmed that small businesses would not be exempt from the package.

Pending approval by the Cabinet and the legislature, a mother and a father with a new child will be permitted up to two years of leave between them, including three months paid leave between them. Parents can also apply for up to six months of nursing allowances for each child if they take leave from work to care for that child.

Council spokesperson Hsieh Chien-chien (謝倩倩) said the general direction of the recent changes was determined by last year's Taiwan Economic Growth Convention.

"To spread the burden among employers," Hsieh said, "the paid leave will be funded through the labor insurance program."

Hsieh added, however, that employers need to make up any difference between the top insurable wage of NT$43,900 and the employee's actual wage.

Roscher Lin (林秉彬), the director-general of the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises, rejected the claim that businesses would be helped by funding the benefits.

"One way or another," he said, "the wool comes from the sheep."

What would damage small businesses more than the cash payments to parents would be the disruption caused by employees taking extended leave, Lin said.

He said that Taiwan's small businesses could ill-afford to train new employees to cover maternity or paternity leave.

"It could take six months to train an employee for what would only be a short-term stint. What a waste of resources. In the long run, this can only hurt women of childbearing age as employers would shun them," he said.

Chang Chueh (張玨), associate professor at National Taiwan University's Institute of Health Policy and Management, dismissed the idea that finding short-term employees was unreasonably disruptive.

"As long as you are up front with applicants, there's nothing unreasonable about offering short-term contracts," said Chang, questioning the purported severity of the measure's impact on businesses.

"We're down to 200,000 women giving birth annually in this country. Only half of them are working anyhow," he said, challenging the National Association of Small and Medium Enterprises to "put concrete numbers out" on how small businesses would be badly hurt by the measure, or else "stop whining and shoulder their fair share of the burden."

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