Saturday, 24 January 2009

Should women be forced to take minimum maternity leave?

Different countries have different standards for maternity benefits. Western Europe has some of the highest standards in the world with working women eligible for at least full year’s maternity leave. In the UK , women are entitled to 52 weeks’ statutory maternity leave. Most women are also entitled to receive statutory maternity pay for up to 39 weeks of their leave. Statutory maternity pay amounts to 90% of the average weekly earnings for the first six weeks, then up to £117.18 per week for the remaining 33 weeks. Many employers offer maternity pay that is substantially higher than the statutory maternity pay. I know of British employers who give their employees full pay for up to 6 months when they are on maternity leave.

In France, the maternity benefits are even better. Women are entitled to up to three years maternity leave after having a baby. During this period, they receive 84%of the minimum daily wage for 16 weeks. In the case of a 3rd or 4th child, the benefits increase. The idea is to encourage women to have more children!

In comparison, employers in the USA are only required to offer 12 weeks of unpaid parental leave, though many employers do provide paid maternity leave to their employees.

Therefore, when Rachida Dati, the French Justice Minister, returned to work only five days after giving birth to a girl, she caused a hue and cry. Born in a poor immigrant Muslim family and the first person of North-African origin to hold a top position in the French government, Dati has always hogged the limelight with her abrasive ways and fashionable clothes. Some said that Dati was forced to return to work since she feared the loss of her job. Job security during the post delivery period does not obviously apply to politicians and ministers.

Other women who went back to work immediately after delivering a baby wrote articles supporting Dati.

The issue here is, if employers can be forced by the government to offer minimum benefits to their employees who have babies, for the welfare of the employee and the newly born baby, can new mothers be forced to stay at home on maternity leave for a minimum period so that their babies don’t suffer? In my opinion, I don’t think a woman can be forced to take the maternity leave she is entitled to if she wants to get back to work immediately after delivery. It is possible for a grandmother or aunt or a nanny to care for a newly born baby when the mother returns to work. If the baby is not adequately provided for when the mother is at work, the parents can be taken to task by the social services, but no mother should be forced to stay at home on maternity leave if she does not want to.

At the end of it all, despite Dati rushing back to work, she lost her job.

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