HAVING Manny Pacquiao in Congress has always been a lot like having Michael Jordan in a baseball uniform: It’s uncomfortable to watch, and one desperately hopes he figures out on his own that he’s a fish out of water, before someone has to tell him he’s making a fool of himself.
Although Pacman is a stellar boxer, and in his prime was maybe the best the world has ever seen, the only thing he has ever excelled at in his career as a politician is setting a record for absenteeism (in 2014 he reported for a grand total of four out of 70 sessions). Perhaps that is just as well, because when he does bother to give his legislative job some attention, he will more likely than not propose something completely daft, such as a bill he has filed extending paid maternity leave for government workers from the current 60 days to 180 days.
In another bill that seems set to pass the Senate, the length of maternity leave for all employees public or private is to be extended to 100 days, but Pacquiao does not feel that is adequate, because, according to a report from GMA News, “The lawmaker, who has five children with Sarangani Vice Governor Jinkee Pacquiao, noted the International Labor Organization’s recommendation that the standard length of time for maternity leave should not be less than 14 weeks.”
Fourteen weeks is 98 days, but maybe we should overlook the math on that one; after all, the man’s been hit in the head several thousand times. There are much bigger problems with the whole concept of maternity leave.
Maternity leave is one of those sacred cows of an idea (like the minimum wage) that no one dares question; there may be some debate about details such as how long maternity leave should be, but to suggest that maternity leave shouldn’t even be a thing is considered blasphemy. But maternity leave is an example, maybe the best one, of how regulation of labor— which was originally necessary to curb admittedly gross abuses as the Industrial Age developed—has gone too far into economically negative social engineering.
Harsh as it may sound to the more liberal-minded among us, employment is logically not a social arrangement but a user-resource equation. A for-profit business needs employees to fill process roles; any other objective in having employees is simple philanthropy.
Indeed, employers should be held accountable for their employees’ well-being to the extent it is relevant to their jobs: That means providing competitive compensation, ensuring that the number of working hours required are not unreasonable and that sufficient rest periods are provided, that the working environment is safe and healthy, and that any harm to employees’ health and well-being arising from the job environment is fully corrected by the employer.
All of those things fall into the category of proper use and care of a valuable resource. Many employers, of course, go well beyond that and do foster a social relationship with their employees, and that’s fine—it’s good business, and employers should be encouraged to go beyond what is reasonably required to the extent their capacity allows. But going beyond the reasonable requirements should be optional. The capacity to reward employees varies from business to business, and the business case for compensation and employment terms beyond those that can reasonably be universally applied varies from job role to job role. Obliging employers to go beyond those is a form of intervention that ignores economic logic.
Even though it does not actually make sense to do so, it is still the prerogative of the government representing the people to decide that a) having a baby is a right, and not a choice; and b) employers, and by extension shareholders and end-consumers, should be required to subsidize that right. By the same token, since it is impossible to force someone to become an employer, it is the prerogative of would-be job creators to choose not to subject themselves to those impositions, and not employ anyone in the first place.
Which is likely to be the result of measures to extend maternity leave, and may—although it is impossible to determine empirically—already contribute to a dearth of worthwhile employment opportunities for women. If Pacquiao’s proposal passes into law, it will have a chilling effect on hiring for women, and may even reduce job growth in general. If businesses are threatened with the prospect of being accused of discrimination, they may choose to avoid hiring altogether, or turn to other undesirable alternatives such as contractual hiring or outsourcing.