WEDNESDAY, April 17, 2024

98-day maternity leave not enough, group says, as it fights for 180

98-day maternity leave not enough, group says, as it fights for 180

The current Thai maternity leave law allows women to focus on their child for 98 days while dealing with the stresses of pregnancy and childbirth.

That is not sufficient, according to the Women and Men Progressive Foundation (WMP), which has collated statistics that they say shows that the duration is not enough. The current limits damage people at both individual and societal levels, they argued at a seminar titled “Expand maternity leave, improve quality of life,” and called for an expansion to 180 days – with full pay.

The maximum maternity leave period in Thailand is now 98 days, covering both pre- and post-delivery. During this time the employers are responsible for 45 day of wages, with the Social Security Office of Thailand taking on the other 45 days but with the limitation of 15,000 baht. The remaining eight days are without pay.

Pregnant women get 1,500 baht in social security money for maternity care expenses, yet this amount is expected to last for the entire time of pregnancy. A realistic sum today would be 1,500 baht monthly at the minimum, according to Chonticha, one of the pregnant women who joined the seminar. After the delivery, women continue to get support of 800 baht to help with expenses.

Timaporn Charoensuk, the secretary of Rangsit Labour Union Group, said that with insufficient support money, most working class women are forced to rush back to work and are not able to use the total 98-day leave.

With the current insufficient length of leave, pregnant women also continue working until the delivery day even when they should not. This is to save as many leave days as possible to spend with their baby after delivery.

A mother requires more than 98 days to recover after giving birth to a child, Dr Thanyaporn Mekrungcharas, paediatrician at Queen Sirikit National Institute of Child Health, told the gathering. Humans need at least 90-100 days to adjust to major changes and this includes women with newborn babies who have just been through the whole process of pregnancy followed by the sudden fluctuation of hormones. The doctor said that going back to work after just three months on leave, can contribute to postpartum depression, a medical condition that includes deep sadness, anxiety and tiredness that women may experience after giving birth.

Three months is also just half of the recommended time for breastfeeding, with UNICEF and WHO recommending that a child be breastfed for the first six months. Going back to work is likely to make it hard for mothers to do so. Many workplaces lack a nursery room or a proper space for mothers to use a breast pump. This results in many families turning to milk powder far too soon and that, in turn, adds to the family’s expenses. Importantly, breastfeeding is a natural way to help mothers to recover better.

Dr Mekrungcharas also remarked that three months is too short for a mother and her child to build a bond and could affect the child’s mental stability in the long term.

The Women and Men Progressive Foundation is calling for the expansion of maternity leave up to 180 days for mothers and 30 days for fathers with wages fully paid, and with the absence not allowed to affect considerations regarding promotion and work performance. This is in line with the recommendation by the Thailand Ministry of Public Health as well as the draft bill by the Moving Forward Party that just passed first reading in the House on March 6.

Expanding leave in this way is also predicted to help with the nation’s declining birth rate and its ageing society. According to a survey by WMP and the Thailand Development Research Institute presented to the seminar participants by Thanyamol Sawangwong from WMP, some 38.4% of people are afraid of financial problems related to having a child, 24.5% are afraid of not having enough time to take care of them, and 22.9% are worried about not getting a bonus or promotion.

Sustarum Thammaboosadee, a professor in the College of Interdisciplinary Studies at Thammasat University, the group’s proposal is a low-cost investment with a substantial repayment. The number of Thai women taking maternity leave in a year is actually very low, even in companies where females make up the majority of employees. Expanding the period benefits the company by reducing employee turnover and associated training costs.

Chonticha, who now works in a factory seven months into her pregnancy, said she hopes to see the Act modified to allow 180 days of maternity leave before her delivery in May. This would make life after delivery much better for her and her family.

The Move Forward-proposed bill will see second reading soon and many soon-to-be mothers and others have hope for it to sail through. Looking forward, Professor Thammaboosadee believes that a future maternity leave law with 180 days for mothers and 30 days for fathers will not remain the ceiling. There should be no ceiling when it comes to the quality of life, he said.