Bloomberg: Longer Maternity Leave in China Signals More Women’s Rights

China Labour Bulletin is quoted in the following article. Copyright remains with the original publisher.

By Natasha Khan - Nov 22, 2011

China plans to give women eight days more paid maternity leave in an overhaul of benefits that promises to standardize and improve their labor rights.

Standard maternity leave will be increased to 98 days from 90 days, according to draft regulations posted yesterday on the website of the Legislative Affairs Office, a working body of China’s cabinet. The plan includes insurance coverage for claims related to childbirth and miscarriage.

If adopted, the changes would make China compliant with International Labor Organization standards established in 2000 and enhance a social insurance law introduced in July that stipulated maternity allowances for all female employees.

“It’s creating a new national standard,” said K. Lesli Ligorner, a Shanghai-based partner at Paul Hastings, who co- chairs the law firm’s international employment practice. “It strengthens the law to give women greater rights in the workplace, and also reflects Chinese public policy and the importance of family.”

China is among 173 countries that provide paid maternity leave, according to a 2011 United Nations report. Hong Kong allows for 70 days, India 84 days, Japan 98 days, and the U.K. 273 days. Sweden tops the global chart with 480 days of paid leave, while the U.S. allows for 84 days of unpaid leave, according to the UN report.

China’s proposed legislation ensures that employees whose childbirth costs aren’t currently covered by social insurance will receive some form of insurance, said Kevin Jones, Shanghai- based head of employment practice at law firm DLA Piper.

Lower-Paid Workers

The law introduced in July changed the way maternity leave allowance is calculated, Ligorner said. Since July 1, employers are required to calculate maternity allowance according to the average monthly wage for all their employees in the previous year, Paul Hastings said in a newsletter.

“Lower paid female employees could end up with a windfall if the employer’s average monthly wages are high,” the law firm said in a separate newsletter.

While legislation has been changing in recent years, many factories may not abide by labor laws regarding maternity leave or security benefits, said Geoffrey Crothall, a spokesman for Hong Kong-based labor rights group China Labour Bulletin.

Women must be in compliance with family-planning regulations, including China’s one-child policy, to be paid from the maternity insurance fund, said Rachel Zhang, a Shanghai- based associate at law firm Mayer Brown JSM.

‘Marginal’ Change

An eight-day increase in maternity leave is “marginal,” Francis Cheung, a senior strategist at CLSA in Hong Kong, said in a phone interview.

There were 18.3 million births in China in 2009, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund.

The International Labor Organization “welcomes the proposal,” said Huang Qun, Beijing-based program officer for the United Nations agency. “Maternity insurance is an effective means to ensure the wellbeing of women and newborns, which also helps reduce gender discrimination in employment.”

The ILO hopes that maternity protection will be extended to non-public enterprises and the informal sector so that more women will benefit from the proposed regulations, Huang said.

Esprit Holdings, Sinotrans Air Transportation Development and Hang Seng Bank are among China-domiciled companies with the largest percentage of female employees, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
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