IF there is any significant peace of social-justice legislation that could and should be passed by the 17th Congress, it’s none other than the Expanded Maternity Leave bill. This is a long overdue benefit for Filipino women who have been productive members of the national workforce and who have, at the same time, embraced the duties and sacrifices of motherhood.
At present, the law allows women who have undergone a normal childbirth a 60-day paid maternity leave. It becomes 78 days if delivery is done through Caesarian section.
All women who have given birth know that 60 or 78 days are not enough for them to recover from nine months of pregnancy; more so from childbirth, which, even if pronounced normal and attended to by the most competent of obstetrician-gynecologists, remains fraught with life-threatening risks.
As the old Filipino saying goes, one foot is in the grave (isang paa ang nasa hukay) when a mother gives birth.
Moreover, doctors recommend that babies be exclusively breast-fed during the first six months of their lives. This is difficult, if not impossible, if women are forced to report back to work just two months after giving birth.
The last time the number of days of paid maternity leave was adjusted was in March 1992. Back then women who gave birth were entitled to a mere 45 days’ leave. It took a woman president, Corazon Aquino, to sign a law adjusting the benefit.
Today, the Philippines, which considers itself a matriarchal society in many respects, as well as a religious society that encourages families to have as many children as practically and economically possible, is woefully behind other Southeast Asian countries when it comes to paid maternity leaves.
Research by the Nagkakaisa! and Workers4EML groups found, for instance, that socialist Vietnam provides 120 to 180 days of maternity leave depending on the working conditions and nature of work.
Singapore provides 112 days. Cambodia, Indonesia and Thailand allow 84 days of paid maternity leave.
The global standard is a minimum of 98 days, as prescribed under Convention 183 of the International Labor Organization.
The bill up for Congress’ consideration is a reasonable one – the expansion of paid maternity leave to 100 days.
In fact, no benefit will make up for the time and opportunity that our women workers lose when they give birth. For those trying to break the glass ceiling, three months of absence from the corporate world could mean foregoing important projects, overseas trips, training, or even a promotion.
It’s understandable for employers to balk at the additional cost, not to mention adjustments needed at the workplace because of the temporary absence caused by the pregnancy of their female workers.
But if society demands a lot from our women – that they be productive workers and at the same time good mothers, society owes them something, too. Let’s give our mothers sufficient time to recover from giving birth to new life, instead of giving up their own.