Doubling maternity leave

The UBP has pledged to consider doubling maternity leave if elected, but will it do more harm than good?  It’s a nice thought for making pregnancy easier for mothers, especially single mothers but what are the implications?   How will it impact businesses?  What will it do to the stature of women in the workplace and their earning potential?  What of women who bear no children?  Will doubling maternity leave do more harm than good?

In a recent announcement by the Opposition United Bermuda Party, they pledged that if elected, they would consider doubling maternity leave.

The UBP would institute programmes designed to help people at key stages in life, beginning before birth, with maternity leave.

The UBP would consider legislation to extend paid maternity leave to six months, set up two additional Government-run affordable day care centres for a total of three and subsidize the cost of day care up to pre-school ages.

Doubling maternity leave is a great gesture which will likely go a long way in building support from the feminine voter base, but what are the implications?

How will doubling maternity leave impact businesses?  Unfortunately, modifying legislation to force businesses to support 6 month maternity leaves places undue hardship on businesses, especially small businesses.  According to the August 2007 edition of Labour Market Indicators, the median annual salary of women in our workforce for 2006 was $48,848.  When combined with the average number of children of 2.4 noted for women aged 45 and over by the 2000 Census, we can compare how much maternity leave costs the average business in 3 month and 6 month durations.

Presently, at maternity leave lasting 3 months in duration, women can roughly be estimated to cost a business 7.2 months worth of salary in maternity leave assuming they work for one business throughout their working life.  At even just the median annual income of $48,848, that equates to $29,308.8 that the average business spends on maternity leave on every woman.  For a small business that employs many women, that number quickly adds up.  When considering a doubling of maternity leave to 6 months in duration, or 14.4 months over the lifetime of the average woman, that equates to $58,617.6, which is more than a years salary, in added costs for any business that hires your average woman which adds up very quickly for small businesses.

What will doubling maternity leave do to discrimination against women?  Will it encourage pay discrimination and make small businesses less likely to hire and promote women?  Just as Newton’s 3rd law suggests that every action shall have an equal and opposite reaction, so can we presume that extended maternity leave will likely yield undesired consequences.

According to the 2007 Labour Market Indicators women earned $3,512, nearly 7% less, in median annual gross earnings than men annually.  When considering that education level and job roles may well play a factor in that number, the question does arise of what factor the potential of losing an employee to maternity leave contributes to overall compensation.  If the average business spends $29,308.8 on a woman in maternity leave over, lets assume, a 40 year work life, that equates to $732.72 a year in costs to the business which may well contribute to the differential in pay between men and women.  If we consider what would occur when maternity leave is doubled, that could equate to $1465.44 per year in costs to the business.  If the business is forced to pay an extra $732.72 per woman, will that translate directly into a 20% increase in the differential of pay between men and women?  Would it also discourage smaller businesses from taking on the risk of hiring and promoting women out of fear of losing them for 6 months each time they opt to have a child?  What of women who have no children who are unduly punished with less pay while not contributing to a company’s loss?

The UBP has pledged to consider doubling maternity leave if elected, but will it do more harm than good?  It’s a nice thought for making pregnancy easier for mothers, especially single mothers but what are the implications?   Will it have an impact on businesses, especially small businesses?  What will it do to the stature of women in the workplace and their earning potential?  What of women how have few or no children and the implications in increased discrimination?  Will doubling maternity leave do more harm than good?

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16 thoughts on “Doubling maternity leave

  1. Sounds old fashioned and poorly thought-out to me. Why not just institute paternity leave? This would have the similar effect for families if each parent could take 3 months leave in turn. It would also have the effect of being equitable while maternity-leave-only policies can be considered discriminatory.
    Of course, if the father is nowhere to be found, as happens all too often, the child would be better off with a mother with an extended maternity leave. The same child would be done no favors by having a mother with reduced earning potential either, and making men and women employees more equal burdens on business could go a long way towards closing the gap.

  2. DID I HEAR THE UBP ??????
    Say anything about GOVERMENT WASTE , curbing it,and it must have been so loud,
    ‘A TAX CUT’
    Are we going to have the same old tax and spend??????
    Less tax ,less goverment ,makes it cheaper to live in bermuda.
    This is not a new idea,everyone seems to be into how to spend money that is not even theirs.How about first off some accountability.where did the 800 million dollars go??????

  3. Where I come from the bare minimum maternity leave is 6 months (not all on full pay mind you) and soon to extend to one year, so does most of Western Europe. Bermuda has all its public holiday/leave regulations mixed up. Following the US maternity leave system is not popular amongst working women I can tell you. It is NO HOLIDAY being at home with a young baby (in my case we had spent the previous 10 weeks in hospital as he came 8 weeks early). It is far harder than a day at the office.
    Three months is in no way adequate for a women to recover from a birth and have her baby in a routine AND be expected to hand her/him over to a daycare provider.
    I agree that paternity leave should be offered as standard (some companies have it and, incidentally some companies already offer 6 months maternity leave here).
    Men can’t have babies and until they can there is going to be a knowledge gap about the experience !
    I doubt any of the other postees have had children based on their comments.
    Enough said.

  4. Reality Check,
    Ok, say it is extended to a year. How do you feel that will impact equality of pay and the likelyhood for advancement of women, especially women who opt to have no children? Further, what solutions do you propose that addresses all three issues of maternity leave, equality in the workplace, and financial hardship incurred by small businesses?

  5. Reality Check,
    I’m not sure what we are supposed to be talking about here but I am talking about paid leave. My knowledge of the hardship of parenthood is limited but I don’t see how that is relevant to the issue of who should pay for that hardship. How much do you think it should cost your boss for you to have a baby?
    If we are talking unpaid leave then I would have no problem with legislation ensuring that jobs are held for parents for up to two years or even longer.
    Does anyone know if the UBP is proposing 6 months paid?

  6. It’s a big deal, doubled maternity leave time. Denis raises good points. Paternity leave as well was mentioned by Mike Taylor and personally I’m not happy at all with my employer’s policy of a maximum 1 week leave.
    It’s going to be hard though, convincing businesses to go with mandatory 6 months’ maternity for new mothers. Small businesses may be forced to fold or change recruiting, while big business may decide to move elsewhere.
    Then again I would wager the whole suggestion as electioneering anyway.

  7. To tell the truth my preference would be for no legislated burden to the employer, other than that to hold a job for new parents. I would much rather see something like a national plan which all employees pay into to help support new parents up to their second child. Funny thing about ideas like that though, they just don’t have the same clout with voters as freebies, and if your going to throw around freebies its waaaay easier to do it with someone else’s money!

  8. The most crucial year for a baby is its first year – a time a baby bonds with its mother or father. A time that is equally important for parents as well. This is the future generation we are talking about & so wouldn’t it be worth it if mothers or fathers do get to stay at home with their baby for six months to a year. Canada has mat or paternity leave slated at one year, paid at 60% Some countries in Europe are even more so.
    Why is it that the impact on business are considered? With all due respect Dennis, I can understand it may be hard to consider this from a woman’s standpoint, from a mother’s standpoint. Perhaps when it’s your turn, when you are about to have a child, you will then reconsider your thoughts posted here. When it’s your child, it’s a whole different ball game. You would want mat leave to be at six months or even more, forget about the impact on businesses. And please let’s not compare how this would make other women who are not planning to have children feel. Having a child is a choice, just like not having one is. This is like comparing how non smokers don’t get work breaks like smokers do.
    I actually wrote a post about the whole maternity leave issue, once I got some reactions from Bermudian & American mothers here on the island. Please do check it out.

  9. MsCutePants,
    Don’t shoot the messenger. I’ve just asked the questions that should also matter.
    While certainly I can attempt to understand the perspective of mothers I can never truly understand because I’ll never be one and I do appreciate that.
    However, one must as the question of where do you draw the line? Is it 3 months, 6 months, 1 year, 2 years, 5 years, 20 years? A lifetime? In reality, the first year may be crucial for development but critical mental and psychological development continues throughout childhood so where do you draw the line of acceptability in terms of paid maternity leave?
    It is easy to use the “you’re not a mother so you don’t understand”, but to suggest that other parties impacted by your choice should not be considered is not fair to others no matter how much they may not understand the pain and suffering of childbirth.
    I never said don’t give out 6 month maternity leave, I simply asked if it will do more harm than good and was thinking in the perspective of women and equality in the workplace.
    The question is whether there is a middle ground that can be found?
    A number of good considerations have come forth
    – paternity leave to offer a balance in the workplace
    – longer terms up to a year
    – leave without pay up to 2 years with job guarantees
    – 60% pay instead of 100%
    All of these are good considerations and they should be made alongside the considerations of what impacts such legislation will have on businesses and equality in the workplace.

  10. You also make a good points on your post:
    Expat work permit extension to cover leave?
    55% for Canada
    There is also the question of being fiscally responsible when it comes to having a child, which should be encouraged by all regardless of whether there is any leave offered.

  11. Denis,
    I think one’s view on this may change with age. I know mine has. When I was in my early 20’s, single with no kids, I have to admit that climbing that corporate ladder was #1. Oh we all said “work-life balance is important” but we all knew that the people who were getting ahead were working 60 hours/week.
    Time changes everything and my wife and I (both chartered accountants)…we work to live and NOT live to work. Many of are friends are highly educated professionals and it is interesting to see how both the men and the women who now have kids REALLY DO make them their priority. So many women whom I thought were primarily career driven are now wanting to stay home as long as possible with their children and many are taking 6 months off and don’t care if 3 of those months are unpaid. They all admit that raising a child is much more fulfilling than making sure that a balance sheet balances.
    As for how women will be treated in the workforce….well people don’t like change but employers will adapt. They have in other countries and they will here, too. In the accounting world there are several companies in Bermuda who outsource qualified CA’s (like temp’s)to companies to fill in for 3 month maternity leaves. If they can get a temp for 3 months, they can get one for 6.
    Also don’t forget that there are the women out there who don’t ever want to have children, and they feel their lives will be fulfilled with a career. They will therefore not take maternity leave and therefore their career progression should stay on course. Also, no one is forcing women to take a full 6 months of maternity leave. Although the vast majority of the women that I know would jump at the chance to spend more time with their child rather than have them raised by nannys or daycares, if they truly want to go back to work well before the 6 months are up, there will be nothing stopping them.
    In the end Denis, any legislation that will get families together in this country and will guarantee more time that a parent spends with their child can only be beneficial to the future of this country. If we always worry about the impact on business, we will end up retiring at 65 “to spend more time with the family” but unfortunatly for these business people, it is often too late. You can never get those years back.

  12. I would like to know what the business community, and small business owners think about this. If the PLP govt had suggested this i am sure the Chamber of Commerce, and ABIR, and other special interest groups would be crying fowl, how the government is just making a decision without consulting them.
    However, maybe there is no need to cry fowl because they realize it won’t come to fruition as the UBP won’t win.

  13. Kneesox,
    My intention isn’t to discredit the legitimacy of the legislation, simply question it’s impact from all angles.
    Stop and look at my perspective for a second. I’m 26, single, male and I work for an exempt company. Thus, I’d in no way be impacted by this legislation and it’ll be quite some time before I will ever be.
    So, because I have no ties and nothing to gain from the legislation, I have the ability to approach it with objective reasoning.
    Sure, it’s easy to look from the perspective of a parent and say businesses will adapt.
    But what of a small entrepreneurial business that only has 3-4 employees who aren’t easily replaced with temps for a few months. Such legislation comes at a huge hit because its a great deal of added cost. You either go without or pay double for less productivity. That could be damanaging to a newly forming business.
    If you know women are more likely to put you under a situation where you’ve got to pay for their leave for 6 months, you’ll work that into the consideration of whether you’ll hire them and even how much you’re willing to pay them in comparison to a man who doesn’t face such burdens.
    Then look at other businesses. You’re an exec considering who you should promote into management. You’ve got a smart and capable male and a smarter and more capable female but because of the risk that the female might get pregnant and go on maternity leave, you pass her up because you can’t afford to have that kind of liability in your management.
    Then think, what if that woman never intends to have a child and never does, yet she is passed up for roles she could and should be getting.
    Shouldn’t we be striving for equality and does a simple doubling of the maternity leave period ensure this? Are women in general willing to accept a pay cut to provide that added leave as that may well be the unintended knock-on affect.
    Rather than asking me to put myself in the shoes of someone who is older and has a family, put yourself in the shoes of every stakeholder and ask yourself what impact it would have.
    As nice as it is for families and for you looking back, think about the entreprenur that this law could make or break his business, think about the young woman where this law could make or break her career potential.
    There are many different stakeholders and thus they each should be considered as we try to mitigate the best solution for all.

  14. No one posting here has an objective argument. Because we are all human we all have subjective responses.
    Denis, I am a 40-year old career woman having a break after a difficult time with my first baby. I have worked in the insurance industry for 20 years and I have managed teams of people aged 18-60. My point is that is is a statutory right for women to have time off from their paid jobs when they have a baby. I have dealt with those absences as a manager and it is quite right that women are protected as they are.
    Businesses of all sizes deal with those statutory regs. in the UK because they cannot discriminate against women as job applicants and then as employees. Well, they can but they will be sued if they do so.
    Women are disadvantaged in employment as it is (your comments about career progression are ridiculously true without the issue of maternity arising). Some women choose not to have children and their careers are still not helped by this in a predominantly male environment (such a mine is here, not in the UK mind you).
    There are enough social problems around “the family” here and it’s about time Bermudian employers caught up with those countries who take better care of their employees. Fathers benefit greatly from their wives focusing on their babies too but I doubt many would choose to stay at home 24/7 for 3/6/12 months with a baby. If they want to, their wives agree, and there is no issue with breastfeeding (let’s keep this real !) then fine, offer it to the fathers too.

  15. We had a couple at my workplace who had a beautiful young girl, but what happened after the maternity leave expired for the mother, the father decided to become a stay-at-home dad and let the mother return to work. He sacrificed income to do this. Probably would have been more fair if he had been offered a comparable leave period as well. Just a thought since family situations vary among couples (and singles of course).

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