The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) has finalized its proposal on maternity leave, and is expected to put it up for approval by November 2015. This is after the government put up a proposal for maternity leave to the RCSC in January 2015, in line with its own election promise.
The main heart of the RCSC recommendation, based on the government proposal and its own study is to give a six month fully paid maternity leave to mothers. Beyond this either the mother or the father can stay at home for another six months and get half pay or the other option is that the parent can take up flexi time of doing 50 percent work and getting full pay. This will be in effect till the child turns one year old.
RCSC Chairperson Karma Tshiteem said, “The main reason for six month maternity leave proposal is for the health of baby and to make it in line with the National Breastfeeding policy.”
He said that there were serious issues of wasting, stunted growth and child health issues in Bhutan due to inadequate breastfeeding. He said the additional six months for half pay leave or flexi time till the child turns one is because this is also a critical period for the child’s health development.
The Chairman explained that the maternity leave for the additional six months of flexi-time or half pay could apply for either parent as there could be cases of single parents bringing up a child.
The RCSC after receiving the proposal from the government had created its own taskforce to study the issue and in the final stages had discussed and sorted out the issue of financial implications with the Ministry of Finance.
Karma Tshiteem said that once the cabinet gives approval the leave system can be ready for implementation by the New Year in 2016.
The RCSC proposal aims to be broader in its approach by going beyond maternity leave and also looking at creating a more conducive environment for working mothers or fathers and their children. It encourages the creation of crèche where working mothers can keep their children in the office.
However, the RCSC Chairman said that the RCSC proposal was only for civil servants as RCSC has no say when it comes to government corporations and also the private sector.
He, however, pointed out that anything adopted by the civil service had a demonstrative effect on the corporate sector.
“We have to remove the false choices between family and career for women,” said the Chairman.
He said the maternity leave in no way will affect the RCSC’s recruitment of women candidates or their career path.
Government Corporations and Private Sector
In what may come as welcome news to corporate employees the Finance Minister Lyonpo Namgay Dorji said that even though corporations have their own service rules, normally whatever is applied to the civil service is also applied to government corporations.
The January 2015 government proposal for maternity leave includes both the civil service and government corporations.
“Since the original government proposal includes government corporations the corporations should apply it,” said the minister.
The government corporations are either State Owned Enterprises (SOE) that comes under the MoF like Bhutan Agro, BBS, Kuensel etc or Druk Holding and Investment (DHI) companies.
With regard to the private sector the government proposal had said that in addition to the existing eight week maternity leave private companies could have another seven months where mothers have a more flexible working schedule like working from home or working full time hours for a few days.
RCSC report based on Government Proposal and support
The 2013 elections saw the People’s Democratic Party manifesto promising a nine months flexi-time in addition to the three months paid maternity leave for mothers. The flexi-time meant that mothers could work for around 50% of the time or workload for the additional nine months after the three month leave was over.
Lyonpo Dorji Choden who is also the Chairperson of NCWC said, “Right from when the government came to power we started working on the issue of extending maternity leave and so the cabinet directed the National Commission for Women and Children (NCWC) to look into the issue along with other relevant government agencies.”
The minister said that after exhaustive consultations with various relevant agencies like Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education, Ministry of Labour and Human Resources, private sector and others a report titled ‘Proposal for Extension of Maternity Leave’ was prepared and submitted to the RCSC in January 2015.
The main meat of the proposal came from a 15 page Ministry of Health report which gave detailed medical or health arguments and evidences in favour of maternity leave. It gave around six various options for maternity leave.
The health proposal was worked on by the committee lead by Lyonpo Dorji Choden and finally it was made into a 10 page proposal giving two options on maternity leave. This was then submitted to the RCSC in January 2015.
Of the two options in the government report, the first was a three month maternity leave with another six months of flexi time. The second option was of a six month fully paid maternity leave with half pay for another six months or full pay for flexi time.
The RCSC’s final proposal is closer to the second option given by the government report.
While there was general support in the cabinet for the maternity leave the two strongest backers for the proposal were Health Minister Tandin Wangchuk whose ministry did the medical, health and international practices groundwork research and Lyonpo Dorji Choden who chaired the NCWC lead government committee. The cabinet chose Lyonpo Dorji Choden given that she is a woman and would understand women issues better and also was the Chairperson of NCWC.
Lyonpo Tandin Wangchuk said, “I strongly support the maternity leave proposal as medical research by various international agencies including the World Health Organization shows that the six month exclusive breastfeeding for children is very important for the health of the child and a good investment.”
He said that though the cost today maybe Nu 100 but the savings would be around Nu 1000 or more as well breastfed children would have less long term health complications and issues. He also said that beyond the six months also it was important to give children breast milk and good nutrition in the golden stage.
He said that mothers getting adequate time to rest would allow then to produce better milk and also feed their children.
Lyonpo Dorji Choden also said that she also strongly supported maternity leave for women as the view so far had been very lopsided of the choice either being children’s welfare or the participation of women in the workforce. Lyonpo said that the system must be made more conducive for women to be able to take part in the workforce.
Advantages of Maternity leave
The original government proposal says breast milk provides all the energy and nutrients for an infant for the first six months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second-half of the first year, and up to one-third during the second year of life.
Artificial feeding has been shown to be associated with increased incidence of diarrhoea, respiratory infections, allergies, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease such as hypertension etc.
Exclusively breastfeed children are shown to have improved scholastic performances and better long term health well into adult life. Some of the added advantages of breast milk are that it contains exact nutrients which is easily digested by baby and protects it from infection, helps in growth and development, improves maternal bond.
Breastfeeding also protects mothers from the risks of ovarian and breast cancers.
The report also pointed out other advantages like reduction in maternal mortality and morbidity. It also lead to the prevention of malnutrition ,enhanced population productivity through improved scholastic performance of children, enhanced harmony and improved family bondages. There was also early detection of disabilities in children, reduction of stunting by 19.8%, fertility regulation without using contraceptives and savings accrued through minimum import of baby foods and substitutes
Research showed flextime increases productivity and morale, while reducing the amount of workers’ absenteeism, truancy and use of overtime.
The report says that there are some 20 international events by UN, WHO, etc which calls for promotion of breastfeeding or Infant and Young Child Feeding practices.
The National Nutrition, Infant and Young Child Feeding Survey of 2008 revealed that the current national level prevalence was 37% for stunting, 11.1% for under weight and 4.6% for wasting. The survey reported that the exclusive breastfeeding for 4 months was 37% but it reduced to 10.4% for six months.
The government report says that the Lancet’s child survival series of 2003, reconfirms that universal practice of exclusive breastfeeding during first six months and continued for up to 12 months can save 13% under five child deaths which a far greater contribution than offered by any other single intervention.
The proposal lays out risks like gender discrimination in the selection for employment by private sector, overburden of work load on to the peers and co-workers, disparity in delegating powers to expectants mothers, not meeting the targets in government sectors and not meeting the bottom line in business sectors and additional strain on the already insufficient human resources especially in the teaching, professional and technical areas.
The Health Minister said that while there was support for maternity leave issues like what would happen for teachers who needed to teach a certain numbers of classes or nurses giving health care also needed to be looked at. He said people would continue to expect the same level of service. He said there could also be some apprehension in the private sector.
However, both the report and the minister said that the advantages far outweighed the disadvantages.