1992 / 3月
Jackie Chen /tr. by Peter Eberly
The proposed Equal Employment Act--considered the most advanced piece of legislation for working women in the country--has raised the hackles of the business world. Why? And what do other sectors of society think about it?
The Equal Employment Act, which was drawn up by the Awakening Foundation, a noted women's rights group, in emulation of similar laws in the United States, Japan, Germany, Sweden and other advanced countries, is one of the few pieces of legislation in the R.O.C. to have been drafted by a public interest group. Aimed at ensuring equal rights for men and woman at work, it stipulates that employers cannot afford differential treatment to woman in recruitment, hiring, pay, job assignment, evaluation, promotion, training or benefits, but the most controversial part relates to leave.
Three New Kinds of Leave: The bill envisions three new kinds of leave:
One type is maternity or paternity leave. As under the Labor Standards Law, the bill stipulates that employers must offer no fewer than eight weeks of maternity leave and four weeks of leave for a miscarriage. But it also says that they must offer men 14 days of paternity leave to care for spouses who are about to give birth.
Another is called infant nursing vacation leave. Both men and women would be eligible for a year's unpaid leave of absence, recovering their jobs and their pay at the same level when they came back. Infant nursing vacation leave is already available in the government and a few private-sector companies, but the act goes further and states that the worker would continue to receive medical insurance, which has not been the practice so far.
In addition, both men and women would be able to request permission from their employers to reduce their work hours for an hour a day for a period of up to two years after the expiration of their maternity or paternity leave, although they would not be paid for the hours lost.
The third type is child care leave. Men and women with children under the age of six would be able to take 10 days of paid leave a year to care for the child in case it gets sick, needs to receive a vaccination or suffers an accident.
When word got out, the proposals immediately raised the hopes and expectations of many women.
Lin Ting-ting works in advertising and as soon as she saw the report she turned to her husband and suggested, "After the law is passed, let's have a second child."
Will Baby Makers Win? But the picture isn't all that rosy, it seems. The prospect of all that leave immediately caused a backlash from businesses and government agencies.
"We already have a good deal of vacation and leave in the R.O.C., and with all this added in as well, no one will have to work anymore," opines Alexander Wu Jr., industry representative and chairman of Alex Wu and Sons Enterprise Corp., with some agitation. There are 52 Saturdays in a year, he figures, and adding in state holidays gives workers a total of 96 days of vacation. If you throw in maternity leave, paternity leave, child care leave and so on and so forth, then fewer than half the days in the year will be left for working.
"Workers can't demand benefits like these just because they're going to have a baby. How would that be fair to people who can't have children?" he objects.
Instead of adding three new types of leave, most employers believe workers should handle the problem by utilizing the three types of leave already set forth in the Labor Standards Law: paid vacation time, sick leave and unpaid leave for personal business.
The group that proposed the law doesn't agree. The attorney who drafted the legislation, Yu Mei-nu, believes that how reasonable the amount of vacation in the R.O.C. is or how the three kinds of leave stipulated in the Labor Standards Law should be handled are separate questions that deserve discussion, but the three kinds of leave proposed in the new bill have their own rationale and shouldn't be rejected out of hand. "It depends on whether we treat having and raising children as the business of women alone or as that of the public or the state as a whole," she says.
Not Too Much, Rather Too Little: There is indeed a real need for a law of this kind, Ms. Yu says. Families aren't as large they once were. To take paternity leave for instance, women wouldn't have to sit all alone in a postpartum confinement center after giving birth if they had their husbands at their sides to take care of them. And nursing and child care leave isn't just for working mothers--many men have a real need for it, too. "Child custody in the R.O.C. usually goes to the father, and at a time when the divorce rate is climbing and there are more and more single fathers, it's a form of insurance for them, too."
As to that approach, businesses say it simply can't be done.
"It's not a question of wanting to or not but of not being able to," says Alexander Wu. "Our system is based on small and mid-sized businesses. If they had to do everything the same way as in advanced countries like Germany, Japan and America, how could they stand it?" If they're legislated to do something they can't, he believes, it will just make them more cautious about hiring women.
Chen Tai-chiang, deputy director of personnel at Far Eastern Air Transport Corp., points out that the law once required companies to rehire young men called for military service in the same position and at the same pay they had received before they were called, but the result was that employers were leery of hiring young men who had not yet been in the service. It was a case of "wanting to help but winding up hurting."
Women's activists don't buy that tack. "It's a question of whether or not they really want to," Yu says, calling that just an excuse. Under present circumstances, employers simply can't afford not to hire women, and if they want to keep them they have to move forward.
"As society progresses, people are becoming more aware of their rights and obligations, and businesses should bear their part of social responsibility," says Po Ching-jung, former president of the Awakening Foundation. As for comparing ourselves with advanced countries, "it's a problem of having done too little rather than trying to do too much." Job benefits for women were introduced in the West about 20 years ago, she says, yet it's only now that we're trying to catch up. "Even now is already too late."
Charities? Free market economists tend to support the view of companies. San Gee, a research fellow at the Chung-hua Institution for Economic Research, believes that trying to force businesses to offer day care or women's benefits just can't be carried out. "Businesses aren't charities or social welfare agencies with an obligation to solve the problems of individuals," he says. As a result, compulsory laws could lead to a situation of "policies above answered by countermeasures below," where the law and reality each go their own way.
Some people think that the cost of leave for raising the next generation should be shared by individuals, employers and the state rather than borne solely by businesses. In Canada, for instance, women can take six months' leave after having a baby, and their wages are supplemented by government insurance. And in Sweden, the hourly pay of employees who go home and care for their children are covered by tax money.
Heated Debate, Laudable Result: Alexander Wu believes that the women's demands are interesting, and wonders why they haven't tried to put pressure on government agencies: There aren't any stipulations about maternity leave or child care in the Public Servants Service Law!
The Awakening Foundation says that they have but that basically Taiwan is not a Northern European welfare state, and so they hope that the private sector will move faster than the government. Perhaps the government can start by setting up a women's support network, by offering more comprehensive day care agencies, or by encouraging companies to protect women's benefits. "Those are just a few of the options," Yu says.
The bill has gone through two public hearings and is now before the Legislative Yuan for review. During heated debate among business executives, women's groups, scholars and the public, there were many points of contention but each of the various sides brought out its views. No matter whether the bill is passed or how much it may be discounted in the process, the goal of educating the public and spreading the concept of the women's rights has already been reached. And for women's groups, that is a laudable result!