House committee passes 100-day maternity leave

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — The House Committee on Women and Gender Equality gave the go signal for a bill expanding maternity leave to 100 days.

The issue is not only about workers' rights, but also nutrition, according to Democratic Independent Workers' Association (DIWA) Party-list representative Emmeline Aglipay-Villar.

"Most of the time, women stop breastfeeding due to the problem of having to return to work," she told The Source. "The reason why our malnutrition rate is very high in the Philippines is because a lot of babies do not meet that requirement of being breastfed for two months."

Under Republic Act 1161 or the Social Security Act of 1997, new mothers are allowed a 60-day leave for normal childbirth and a 78-day leave for a cesarean section. However, this is below the 98-day standard set by the International Labor Organization (ILO).

The bill, which passed initial readings at the Congress and Senate, seeks to grant new mothers more time to recover from childbirth and attend to their newborn. Under it, government workers are entitled a fully paid leave while those in the private sector must be given an average of their monthly salary credit.

It also allows for 30-day unpaid extensions. The bill applies to contractual workers, following rules from Social Security System (SSS) and Government Service Insurance System (GSIS), and adoptive parents, as per the Domestic Adoption Act.

Villar projects that if the Senate passes the bill again, the House will resume its session in November and a vote can be cast after the third reading.

A similar bill seeking 150 days for maternity leave is in the pipe at the Senate.

Impact on employers

One of the points of criticism against the bill is that it discourages employers from hiring women. "We're trying to make all laws consistent so that women won't be discriminated… if this bill is approved," said Villar, adding that firing employees on the basis of maternity leave was a violation of the Labor Code.

Atty. Rico De Guzman, Chair of the Sub-Committee on Labor at the Management Association of the Philippines, said that he did not think the bill was required by the circumstances.

However, he clarified that managers understand the nutritional aspect of the proposal. "I do not think, though, that this necessarily has to creep in to eight hours of work that the employers pay each and every employee," De Guzman said. "I think we can somehow structure the work of the employees in such a way that female employees can be given the time to breastfeed their babies."

De Guzman worried that a 100-day paid leave may "disrupt productivity and cost of investing," since around half of the Filipino workforce is female. He projected that in the 250 working days of the year, a 100-day leave on top of sick leaves, vacation leaves, and holidays may mean that employees work less than half of the year, which will be a loss to employers. He also mentioned special leaves, like those for solo parents and domestic abuse cases.

However, it was also noted that not all of the female workforce would be affected at the same time. Despite these concerns, the bill did not encounter much opposition in its initial readings.

Villar said that it was important to balance the interests of employers and workers, but the international standard has been set. "The ILO already laid down its requirement of 98 days, and this is already a subject of long study in terms of promoting health of workers," she said. "So as much as the government would like to retain [status quo], I think that the policy should be taking care of our workers more and abiding [by the standard]."

Villar is also pushing for a paternity leave that will last 30 days.