Recent years have seen local authorities revising the population and family planning regulations as well as woman employees’ labor protection regulations. As a result, maternity leave has been extended in many areas, and women on maternity leave can receive salary and other welfare benefits, instead of only the basic salary.
Woman employees across China are now entitled to at least 128 days’ maternity leave, and many regions have the provision to extend it further. For example, article 14 of the Jiangxi province female employee labor protection special regulation, which came into effect on July 1, stipulates that female employees can apply to their employers for extending the maternity leave till their child is 1 year old.
The stipulation of the State Council, China’s Cabinet, on maternity leave is only 98 days, but in some provinces women enjoy up to 335 days of maternity leave. The different duration of maternity leave in different provinces and regions have prompted many to ask what would be the ideal duration of maternity leave.
The special regulations to protect female employees’ rights reflect the importance the authorities attach to women’s contribution to society, which among other things could help make a success of China’s latest population policy to allow all couples to have two children.
From June to September last year, I participated in a study on the implementation of maternity security system under the new family planning policy. According to a survey covering 7,034 people from 12 provinces, municipalities and autonomous regions, 32.7 percent female employees get less than 90 days of maternity leave, and 46.47 percent want its duration to be more than one year.
So how long should the maternity leave be? As a male employee in Beijing said, one year’s maternity leave is too long for female employees to return to their original posts, because they might find it difficult to adjust to their job after "such a long time". But who will take care of the newborns if the new mothers return to work before the kids are admitted to a kindergarten? The authorities should consider this practical difficulty of couples with newborns.
Although many people want the maternity leave to be longer, the negative effects it would have on female employees’ career and promotion cannot be ignored. Some enterprises, especially private enterprises, are reluctant to recruit women who don’t have a child because of the cost of granting them long maternity leaves. Some companies even make it clear they would prefer to recruit women who already have two children or don’t plan to have a second child.
Worse, some female employees working for private enterprises are forced to quit their job because of pregnancy and in some institutions where a majority of the employees are women, such as schools, female employees are required to "queue up" to get maternity leave.
Considering that an extended maternity leave actually aggravates gender discrimination against female employees, maternity leave should not be too long. Instead, the local authorities should help build community nurseries, and ask employing units to plan work schedules in a way that helps female employees with newborns. For instance, they can give women half-day leave or allow them to work from home.