Maternity Leave Is A Right, Not A Privilege
The number of women workers in Indonesia is increasing, and we need a policy that provides protection to all women workers, including the working mothers.
National laws are crucial to the realization of gender equality at work. As a country that is working to promote women’s empowerment, Indonesia has ratified Article 11 of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) through Law Number 7 of 1984, such as to eliminate discrimination against women in the field of employment in order to ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women, the same rights. The need to ensure fair treatment when it comes to employment is because women often have to deal with stereotypes that make them unsure about their capabilities. For example, women are often asked many personal questions, just because of their gender: When do you plan to start a family? Do you plan to have a child in the future? On the other hand, their education, skills, work ethics, and abilities seem less important.
There has been a development in Indonesia’s legislation landscape to achieve gender equality and women’s empowerment at work. Only recently, Indonesia’s House of Representatives (Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat - “DPR”) has been prioritizing the Draft Bill on Mother and Child Welfare (Rancangan Undang-Undang Kesejahteraan Ibu dan Anak - “RUU KIA”). This idea was born due to the realization that many women are not only taking on the role of a mother but also taking part in the workplace to earn income for themselves and their families. However, this Bill reaped pros and cons among Indonesians, especially regarding the length of maternity leave for working women. It is stated in RUU KIA that maternity leave will be extended from previously only three months under Article 82 Law Number 13 of 2003 on Manpower Law to now six (6) months. Companies will be prohibited from firing female employees who implement their rights as mothers. If working mothers are dismissed from their jobs in relation to any of the above matters, the central government and/or regional governments should provide legal assistance in order to ensure that their rights are fulfilled.
Yet, The Indonesian Employers Association (Apindo) has objected to RUU KIA because it would be burdensome for employers and they feared that this regulation will affect the level of women’s participation in the business world. The 6-months of maternity leave is believed to make it difficult for employers to not only pay salaries while the employees are not working, but also to pay for additional costs because they need to hire other people to fill the positions of those who are on maternity leave. Employers may not want to employ married women because they do not want to pay for maternity leaves. But as stated in the Draft Bill, for employers who object to the extension of maternity leave to 6-months, especially in providing an allowance during leave in the next 3-months, it is possible to pay benefits taken from the allocation of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) funds. In addition, alternatives can also be taken from cash allowances provided through national social insurance or public funds.
Maternity leave should not be seen as a privilege for women because they take time from work but still get paid; it is the right of women who bear the responsibility of carrying the child who will be the face of the next generation. Women on maternity leave basically juggle between shushing and rocking. Maternity leave should not be viewed as generosity, gift, privilege, or vacation for women; as far as I know, the definition of vacation conjures images of escape, relaxation, but is not synonymous with caring for a newborn.
There is a case in Deliserdang where 5 women get fired because they were pregnant. These women complained to the Provincial Legislative Council, but until this article was published, there has been no update for this case. This case shows us that employers assume that maternity leave is a choice and not a right for working mothers. They must choose between remaining to go to work or being a jobless mother who takes care of domestic responsibilities. The Government should protect the rights of women workers to ensure that the soon-to-be or new mothers will receive fair treatment.
The RUU KIA’s increased length of maternity leave is a positive progress to ensure the right of working mothers. Women who are working during pregnancy are at greater risk of complications compared to those who are not. The risks come from heat, noise, vibration, chemicals, non-ergonomic work positions, irregular work shifts, and many others. These risk factors can cause various health problems both in pregnant women and in the fetus they are carrying. But with 6 months maternity leave, the working women could prepare from birth preparation to birth recovery, and could focus exclusively on breastfeeding the baby. Moreover, they could prepare and adjust to the big changes, psychologically and mentally, before going back to work. Femmy Eka Kartika Putri, Deputy for Coordination of Qualified Improvement for Children, Women, and Youth at Kemenko PMK, stated that the proposed six-month maternity leave is part of efforts to improve welfare and uphold the rights of working women.
Another concern is breastfeeding for working mothers because they need to pump during working hours with adequate facilities. This is very important to ensure the needs of mothers in fulfilling their obligation to provide breast milk for the good of their children's growth and development. Only 47 percent of female workers can give exclusive breastfeeding to their children. In addition, employees’ happiness is an investment for the company since it is linked to the growth and productivity of the company. This breaks the assumptions based on discrimination in some industries that the reproduction of women will interfere with productivity.
Despite all of that, the regulation and implementation of maternity leave in RUU could end or add problems for women workers depending on how the House of Representatives sets these rules. The implementation might be very difficult if there is no additional regulation that explains step by step what employees could do if they undergo the discrimination. There is an inevitable gap between employees and employers and without a clear guidance, it would be difficult for employees to really benefit from RUU KIA, especially in cases where employers are not willing to comply with the KIA bill. The next urgent step is the harmonization of RUU KIA and Manpower Law. The difference in length of maternity leave between that stipulated in Manpower Law (three months) and RUU KIA (six months) will become a problem if the Indonesian Government offers no explanation or further regulation.
Noer Sida is a legal researcher and analyst currently working for a LegalTech Startup.