The six-month paid maternity leave debate

Those outside the government feel there will be implication on other sectors

Policy: With the implementation of the extended six-month maternity leave, the government has fulfilled one of its major election promises. But skeptics are of the view that the policy will have implications on the other sectors and public service delivery.

Although the rule does not apply to the private and corporate sectors, they feel it indirectly asks them to follow suit. The female employment rate is low and the implementation of the policy in the private and corporate sectors could affect employability of female.

If the scheme is not extended to other sectors, skeptics say that it would “create a division” in the society. The policy provides only to a small segment of the society all the advantages, while leaving out the bulk of the population.

Women civil servants constitute about 2.5 percent of the country’s female population. The policy is aimed at promoting family values and children’s welfare in line with the country’s GNH policy.

One of the two vice-presidents of Bhutan Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dechen Wangmo, said it would entail additional financial burden on the private sector.

If an employee goes on leave for six months, she said the company would have to find her replacement. “There will be two employees for one job when the mother returns from her maternity leave.”

Corporation Chief Executive Officers said they had not discussed anything on the issue as yet and that they were not able to comment.

The Druk Holding and Investments is expected to discuss the issue next week, after which it will make its views public.

However, a corporate manager said corporations might have to wait for a signal from the government. Sharing his personal view, he said the rule will lead to recruitment of additional people and translate into extra financial burden.

A general manager of a corporation said profit-oriented corporations would think twice when employing young women. “It might sound biased, but that will be the reality,” he said. “Corporations have targets to meet and cannot pay for employees who are not contributing.” His company gives three months leave and flexi breast feeding time.

Women employees agree with the government that the scheme will benefit both mothers and babies.

A 27-year-old corporate employee in Thimphu joined office after completing her three-month maternity leave a few days back. “It’s emotionally and physically difficult for a mother to leave a three month baby at home,” she said.

Tshomo, a Thimphu municipal worker from Tashigang works about eight hours a day on a salary of Nu 7,000 per month without any allowances. Civil servants are entitled to a number of allowances such as house rent allowance, difficulty allowance and high altitude allowance.

The government initiated the policy keeping in mind the importance of exclusive breastfeeding and the underlying health impact to the child and the mother. The National Nutritional Survey (2015) shows that the exclusive breastfeeding rate in Bhutan has been found to be only 51.4 percent.

Works and human settlement minister Dorji Choden said the government would be happy to see other sectors also extend maternity leave period even though they may not be able to afford six months. “The private sector can on their own give longer maternity leave than what they have been giving,” she said.

The opposition party supports the scheme in principle, but feels that there should have been more consultations and studies to see whether the state can afford it today.

Opposition leader (Dr) Pema Gyamtsho said, “There should have been more consultations on whether such a scheme would lead to creating a super class for generations to come and whether such a scheme would lead to an unintended discrimination against women, particularly in terms of access to employment opportunities.”

“Bhutan has a highly inflated and lopsided civil service, where the productivity in some sectors are questionable and where we do not have enough professionals to meet the demands for their services in some other sectors,” the opposition leader said.

He believes that it would have been more practical if there was a flexi-time approach whereby, nursing mothers can avail time off for part of the day (according to her own convenience) beyond the current three-month maternity period. This perhaps, he said, would be applicable to other sectors as well without high costs to the exchequer.

“We cannot simply have the kind of social engineering that provides a small segment of the society all the advantages that such a scheme provides while leaving out the bulk of the population,” he said.

The latest RCSC annual report shows there are 9,210 female civil servants, of which 8,928 are between the ages of 19 and 50. During the last eight years, almost equal number of females and males entered the civil service.

Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) General Secretary Tenzin Lekphel described the maternity leave scheme as a “direct against policy” of business development and private sector growth. He said although the government has promised 100 percent employment the policy will give rise to unemployment.

“Giving a six-month paid leave would create a division in the society. We all know that private sector employers cannot afford to give this luxurious leave to women,” he said. “So it is creating an unjust society – a division of women and children in our small society.”

Tenzin Lekphel also said that it is mildly asking the private sector to also provide the six-month leave. “If this be the case, our economy will be in shambles,” he said.

With the implementation of the policy, he said almost one-third of the country’s population will be in the house feeding babies and not working. This, he said, will slow down the economic growth. “As it is, we already have lot of holidays.”

MB Subba

3 replies
  1. lonestar
    lonestar says:

    while india is considering to extend its maternity leve to 8 months, Bhutan is grimacing over the figures presented by some skeptics. skeptics are skeptics….nothing there. it will give us an understanding that everything on the table can be seen from two or more vies just like a coin that always has two sides. nothing doing there.
    things to consider- when the population figure of the women employee in the public sector is less than 3% i think in the long run it will not make much of a difference besides, it is the job of the country to make the job more attractive as well. some one will always crib….let them….the parliament has already passed the law and the orders are issued accordingly…we can do nothing about it.
    coming to the corporate and the pvt. women employees, one needs to understand that the country has marched forward and the lease of this extension in maternity leave is an example at hand and why not the private sectors do it? they can. when it comes to double employee as reported in the kuensel for the same post, it could be contracted out on the principles of HRM…it is workable, just need to twist some keys here and there.
    Now when a good has already been done, lets not crib on it, rather think about how it would ease the same in other sectors than cribbing over a major decision and a promise of the standing governement. lets all be positive. lowly but surely pvt. sector will come about it. i am sure and wish them all the luck there is!

  2. irfan
    irfan says:

    A lot has been debated upon on this issue as well as challenge regarding six month long paid maternity leave that’s a reality now for female employees becoming mothers in the civil service. The debates so far has covered vast set of arguments whether it’s about health of babies or the mother-children emotional bonding or the all important financial and economic decisions to be considered by the employers. They all are very valid arguments, but the challenge here is to have a clearly deductive set of arguments either in favour of it or for alternatives.

    If motherhood can be just an emotional attachment for one woman, it can even highly be a caring addiction for another mother. And we still can’t issue a circular suggesting the perfect size of a modern family in today’s work culture where there is nothing much to discriminate between men and women.

    And in our arguments so far, we are already considering a probable situation where purely profit oriented private companies may not consider young women for jobs if a six moth paid maternity leave becomes a forced norm of some kind. But a new born still needs its mother and even the father for much longer than just 6 months especially when we are no more those larger joint families of the past. Today’s modern working couple don’t even think parenthood ahead of a career in some cases.

    And there are still criticisms that suggest that responsibility of parenthood can make one more effective and responsible an employee and it’s usually more appropriate with responsible mothers. I do feel that there will be a time when even corporates and private sector in Bhutan will consider allowing mother to carry their babies to work. And for that to happen, there should be such minimum facilities in place wherever we have women in a particular age group working.

    Or, we have the option where one can work from whom only if the the job description is defined so and the required work architecture is in the place. Yes that a six month long maternity leave can be considered a true luxury for the government sectors as compared to a profit oriented and more importantly cost conscious private organisation; but if we don’t device a solution now, our future working population will definitely give parenthood a miss over career choices. And it all at best can be just induced set of arguments as there is no such fixed rules to a perfect motherhood or parenthood.

    • irfan
      irfan says:

      Note: There is a correction in the first sentence of the fifth and last paragraph. It should be “work from home” rather than “work from whom”. Typing mistake is regretted.

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply