Married career women have to worry about quitting their jobs in order to have children. In Korea, the policy for childbirth and infant care is often not observed. Women workers who work in companies hesitate to use policies for childbirth and infant care. Leave for childbirth and infant care is legally guaranteed but career women often have difficulty getting leave in reality. The Observer investigated the reality of this situation which is controversial in our society.
The Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism requested an authoritative interpretation from the Ministry of Government Legislation on whether time spent on parental leave is counted as work experience for becoming a first rate librarian last December. The Ministry of Government Legislation concluded that parental leave should not be included as work experience that is required to be promoted from a librarian second rate to first rate. the Ministry of Government Legislation said that the accumulation of work experience should be based on actual work hours which are related to a workers development and skill. Therefore it is difficult to have parental leave acknowledged as work experience. The media has reported that the Ministry of Government Legislation’s analysis regarding librarians might be applied to other jobs as well. The Ministry of Gender Equality and Family opposed this ruling and it caused a big stir on the Internet. Netizens expressed concern about this ruling being used as a precedent by other companies.
Maternity leave is given for pregnant women to ensure their health and the post-natal growth of the child. All women workers can receive it regardless of work experience. Women workers can take 45 days before childbirth and 45 days after childbirth. During maternity leave, maternity leave pay is provided. Business owners are responsible to pay salary during the first 60 days of maternity leave. The Ministry of Employment and Labor provides payment for the last 30 days. The Ministry of Employment and Labor pays 1.35 million won at most, so business owners must cover the rest of the wages that exceed 1.35 million won.
Parental leave provides time off from work similar to maternity leave. Workers who have children aged 6 or under can apply for parental leave. Parental leave is different from maternity leave. Maternity leave is compulsory, but parental leave has to be approved by business owner. Men also can apply for parental leave, whereas maternity leave is only for women workers. In order to receive parental leave, the period of working and being paid wages be more than 180 days. Workers can determine when to take the leave period provided that it does not exceed 12 months. A working couple can receive parental leave alternately, which would allow at least one parent to stay home for two years. Pay is provided by the Ministry of Employment and Labor during parental leave. Both men and women receive 40% of their regular wages. 15% of paternity pay is provided at once after 6 months of returning to work. For example, if your salary is 2.00 million won a month, 680,000 won, which is 85% of 800,000 won is provided and 15% is provided after 6 months of returning to work.
Problems of maternity leave and parental leave
The reality of taking leave from work
In 2010, only 8.7% of eligible workers took parental leave. Although maternity leave and parental leave are legally guaranteed, the rate of use of parental leave is low and many workers experience problems in companies when they apply for it. The Observer looked into the realities of actually trying to take time off to raise a family.
Workers avoid using maternity leave and parental leave due to concerns over company practices and promotions. For example, some companies do not hire substitute workers and simply increase the work load of colleagues, which puts a strain on working relationships. While on maternity leave and parental leave, workers are often ordered to quit their job. Workers are not given work, so they quit their jobs on their own. Moreover, some companies hint that they could dismiss workers if they apply for maternity leave and parental leave. After returning to work, the human resources department of some companies gives the lowest grades to women workers on performance assessments and makes it difficult for them to be promoted. In order to attain target performance rates for appraisal at the end of the year, a certain number of hours should be fulfilled for that working year. However, workers who take maternity leave or parental leave are not included in performance appraisals.
Workers sometimes avoid applying for maternity leave and parental leave not just because of disadvantages and practices at their company but economic difficulty. Parental leave pay cannot exceed one million won a month. Male workers also avoid applying for maternity leave and parental leave. In Korea, men are usually responsible for earning money, but parental leave pay does not meet living expenses. Only 2% of men eligible for parental leave actually take advantage of it. Another reason is that both business owners and workers are not well aware of maternity leave and parental leave, or they do not know that parental leave is different from maternity leave. These policies are often not taken advantage of simply due to ignorance.
Problems faced by businesses
The government provides 200,000 won as a parental leave grant and 300,000 won as a substitute workers grant to companies which give maternity leave and parental leave. However, these grants are very low compared to the disadvantages which the companies face.
Parental leave is counted as work experience, so severance pay increases and it is a burden to the company. When a company denies maternity leave or parental leave, a fine is imposed. Paying the fine is often less of a burden than employing and dealing with substitute workers or regular workers after they come back to work.
When regular workers are on maternity or parental leave, business owners have to employ new workers during their hiatus and deal with new workers when regular workers come back. New workers need to be trained, so they are not able to start working right away. After regular workers come back, they also need time to readjust to work.
First, the number of women who do not work has become a serious social problem. There were many jobs which required physical strength in the past which excluded women from working. However, in a knowledge-based society women can function in most jobs just as well as men. However, only 54.5% of working age women were actively employed in 2011, which ranked Korea at 30th of 34 countries of OECD. There is a pattern that shows women work in their mid to late 20’s, quit their jobs for childbirth and child care in their 30’s, and then re-enter the labor market in their 40’s. Employment rates for women in their 30’s who are raising children fall sharply. It means that raising children and working simultaneously is very difficult in reality.
In addition, women who attempt to come back to work face difficulties at work and are urged to resign. Many women are disappointed with this situation and resign. They cannot have continuous employment because the system and culture for women who give birth is not prepared.
Second, low birth rates have become a serious social problem. Korea’s birth rate is just 1.23 children per family which ranks 217th out of 222 countries. The fact that work and child care cannot be done simultaneously is the biggest reason why women do not give birth following private education expenses. There are no systems to subsidize substitute workers and help women adapt back to working.
Examples of foreign countries
Many foreign countries have recognized that giving birth and caring for babies are not just the responsibility of individual families. they have put forth strong support policies for women who give birth.
Swedish citizens do not hesitate to take leave and they do not face any adversity when they do. Swedish companies actually encourage workers to take leave time. A 480 day parental leave is guaranteed to parents who have children under 8 years old and parents can take leave for 2 months each alternately. After a 4 month leave, one parent can rest for 12 months. Workers receive 80% of ordinary wages for the first 390 days of leave.
They do not experience economic difficulties like Koreans. 35% of all fathers take advantage of parental leave. The age of children in order for parents to be eligible for leave is higher than Korea and the period of parental leave is longer than in Korea. Moreover, paternity leave is guaranteed legally. Maternity leave is just three months in Korea and there are many restrictions. Workers are also required to work for more than 180 days in order to be a ligible. However, the British can take a 26 week initial maternity leave and 26 weeks of additional maternity leave regardless of the length of employment. For maternity leave, workers get 90% of ordinary wages. There is also paternity leave in Britain. Fathers can use a 2 week paternity leave within 8 weeks of delivery.
Parents who have children under one year old can adjust commuting time freely in Japan. Moreover, they can work at home for 2 days a week if they want and reduce working days by 3 to 4 days per week. Their government also provides a childbirth subsidy, a support fund for childcare, medical aid, and support for attending kindergarten for workers who have a baby.
Maternity leave or parental leave might not be a concern for students now, but it is something they will have to deal with in the not too distant future. Practical policies regarding both maternity leave and parental leave are needed. When workers take maternity leave or parental leave, workers have to receive enough support in order to avoid financial strain. If systems to use maternity leave or parental leave are freely established, problems about low birth rates and dull economic activity will be solved.