By Wang Chih-ya, the consultant of Taipei City Government
In 2016, the controversial “one fixed day off and one flexible rest day ” regulation finally passed in Taiwan under the escort of a special position. In addition to making Saturday a “holiday”, changing the working pattern of labourers, moreover, the legislators are planning to remove seven days of actual festive holidays in the future. This unreasonable regulation urges labour groups all over Taiwan to go on strikes and speak out. However, compared with the considerable amount of attention brought about by the removal of the seven-day holiday, laws related to maternity leave rarely catch the public’s eye. They are also related to women’s labour rights, especially when the length of maternity leave for women in Taiwan is well below the international standard of five weeks. Under the premise and with an aim to provide women with a good reproductive environment, this author believes that decree related to maternity leave deserves equal attention from the public.
Fertility is an inevitable stage in many women’s lives. The purpose of reproduction is not only one of the crucial factors to form a family, but also a prime key to maintain the number of ethnic groups in natural reproduction. Therefore, either from the perspective of family or society, its importance is undoubtedly significant. Accordingly, since the 20th century, in order to ensure stable fertility and allow women to give birth without additional worries, countries around the world have protected women’s economic rights through laws and regulations, so that women are able to strike a balance between work life and childbirth. To be more specific, maternity leave is one of the main measures to prevent women from being stuck in the dilemma of financial difficulties and reproduction. However, how should maternity leave be stipulated and how long is considered appropriate? Convention concerning the revision of the Maternity Protection Convention (Revised) (1952), art. 4, states that “On production of a medical certificate or other appropriate certification, as determined by national law and practice, stating the presumed date of childbirth, a woman to whom this Convention applies shall be entitled to a period of maternity leave of not less than 14 weeks.” In other words, the basic standard for maternity leave in the world is that women should be granted 14 weeks of maternity leave as long as they can state the expected date of confinement. Even though Taiwan is not in the applicable subject of the treaty due to its special status in the world, as one of the developed countries, the obligation to protect the basic rights and interests of the people should be the same as that of other advanced countries.
However, according to Taiwan’s original maternity leave regulations, the Act of Gender Equality in Employment Art. 15 (2010) stipulates that “Employers shall stop female employees from working and grant them a maternity leave before and after childbirth for a combined period of eight weeks…During an employee’s term of pregnancy, their employer shall grant them five days of leave for pregnancy checkups.” The maternity leave was for a total of 61 days. The latest revision of the law on December 28th, 2010 increased the number of maternity inspection leaves from 5 days to 7 days, for a total of 63 days (9 weeks). On the other hand, according to Civil Servants Leave Regulations (2019), Art. 3 No.4, pregnant women are given eight days of maternity leave before the accouchement, and 42 days of maternity leave after giving birth, for 50 days in total. After the latest amendment, there are 52 days eventually, which indicates a big gap between Taiwan’s maternity leave regulations and the internationally recognized 14-week maternity leave (98 days). Compared with neighbouring regions in Asia, Thailand sets out a total of 90 days of maternity leave, while Hong Kong prescribes it from 4 weeks before childbirth to 6 weeks after childbirth, for a total of 10 weeks, and Japan stipulates it from 6 weeks before childbirth to 8 weeks after childbirth, for a total of 14 weeks. Even mainland China, which development is generally considered far behind Taiwan, has 14 weeks of maternity leave in line with international standards.
According to statistics from countries around the world, 51% of countries currently provide women with at least 14 weeks of maternity leave, 20% of countries have more than 18 weeks of maternity leave, and only 14% of countries provide less than 12 weeks of maternity leave. Apparently, this shows that Taiwan’s protection of women’s rights has fallen behind, even ranked last in the world. Therefore, it is urgent and necessary to revise the outdated eight-week maternity leave, which has not been changed for more than 40 years, to 14 weeks in line with international standards, in order to protect the basic human rights of women and conform to the international trend of maternity protection for women. At the end of 2021, the amendment of the law on maternity leave finally passed the third reading. However, it is only two days longer. The amendments are only window dressing, and the legislators are ignoring women’s rights in Taiwan!
On the other hand, although the current law concerning birth leave in Taiwan includes parental leave in addition to maternity leave, providing 6 months to 2 years of leave, the process for workers to apply for parental leave is too cumbersome. Not only does parental leave and parental allowances have to be applied separately but also have to be attached to abundant supporting documents. In addition, workers usually have to bear the pressure of the reallocation of human resources in the companies during the leave period, so instead of taking all days off, they will have to coordinate the length and time allocation of parental leave with the company. Since the Taiwanese industrial structure is based on small and medium-sized enterprises, enterprises only employ adequate employees rather than sufficient ones. Thus, once an employee applies for long-term parental leave, it will be difficult for companies to bear the problem of human resources shortage caused by this period. Even worse, some may put pressure on female employees and prevent them from applying for parental leave, resulting in the ineffectiveness of parental leave. Compared to ineffective parental leave, the extension of maternity leave is the solution that can substantially guarantee the rights of postpartum women. From the enterprises’ perspective, it is also a compromise with less negative impact.
In addition, there are significant differences in Taiwan’s current maternity leave laws when it comes to the rights and interests of women workers and civil servants. Judging from the statute aforementioned, the Act of Gender Equality in Employment grants female workers a total of 63 days of maternity leave, which seems to be much more than the 52 days granted to female civil servants under the Civil Servants Leave Regulations. Nevertheless, the “days” in the Civil Servants Leave Regulations are defined as “working days”, which means it excluded the weekends, and if there is a national holiday, additional leave can be made up. In contrast, the maternity leave provisions of the Act of Gender Equality in Employment are calculated based on “calendar days”, which means weekends are already included in the “days” and if there are national holidays, no additional leave will be made up.
Therefore, without considering whether Saturday is a “holiday”, as mentioned in the first paragraph, and maternity leave may fall on a national holiday, female workers will get at least six to eight days less maternity leave than female civil servants. When taking national holidays, such as Chinese New Year, into account, the difference can be up to ten to twelve days. The author is not criticising that civil servants have better rights than female workers by pointing out this inequality but believes that they should have equal rights since their works are equivalently arduous and they are both females. Therefore, the government should not provide different protection for pregnant women that have different careers. Hence, while this author stands by amending the law to extend the time of maternity leave, she also believes that the government should not make the length of maternity leave different due to the various occupations of pregnant women.
Finally, the importance of fertility is that it will affect whether the country will have enough labour in the future. The shortage of labour force will lead to the consequence of Taiwan gradually losing its competitiveness in the world. Therefore, childbirth is not only a family-scale issue, but also a national security issue. In the past decade, Taiwan’s fertility rate has been hovering around 1, showing a stable but rather low trend. According to statistics from the CIA, Taiwan’s fertility rate in 2015 was only 1.12, only slightly higher than Macau’s 0.94 and Singapore’s 0.81, which makes Taiwan the region with the third-lowest fertility rate in the world. By 2021, Taiwan has become the last place among the 227 countries in the statistics! Consequently, in order to avoid the labour shortage caused by the low birth rate in the future, how to create a good birth environment has become a vital issue. However, the current government policies rely on issuing financial subsidies to stimulate the birth rate. The author believes that it is better to reduce the cost of parturition, such as the extension of maternity leave mentioned above. This allows pregnant women to eliminate economic concerns and give birth to children with reassurance. Solving the root of the problem and establishing a good childbearing environment is the best policy to encourage Taiwanese to give birth.
Photo credit: pixabay
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