[EDITORIALS]Workplace Laws Need Adjustments

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[EDITORIALS]Workplace Laws Need Adjustments

Law cannot quite be "the grand plan to last a hundred years," as a popular proverb goes, but law should be cast with the possibility of a future quite different from the present in mind. More than a few good and ideally perfect laws have died away because the chasm between reality and the ideal kept them ineffective, counter-effective and deserted. So we need the integration between the ideal and reality, the future and the present.

The unabated disagreement between the business community and the government on the plan to write into law added benefits for working women is a testimony to the nature of the conflict. At the heart of the bill is expanding maternity leave to include time off for prenatal checkups and miscarriages and extending postnatal leaves by 30 days. The bill also includes infant assistance that will provide partial wages of 30 percent of normal income for time taken off for childcare.

The business community has called for an indefinite suspension of National Assembly review of the bill. Adding maternity benefits now when we have a system of paid time off for menstruation periods, which no other country in the world has, would basically mean unreasonably excessive burden for employers, the community has asserted. For its part, the Ministry of Gender Equality said that, faced with a declining birthrate and shortage of labor, it is in the long term national interest to make employment more accommodating to women, who possess no lesser skill and ability. The reform to allow women to find jobs and hold them will mean benefits that will extend well into the future, the government argues.

There are very few who would argue against the idea that current and future mothers should be protected and aided, especially when the birthrate has indeed fallen to as low as 1.4. The nuclear family is increasingly becoming the norm in today's society, and finding help to look after young children is becoming equally difficult. It is a testimony to this increasingly complex society where fathers are playing a greater role in the bearing and upbringing of children, that the maternity protection is becoming a social issue.

But is the time right? Our economy continues to struggle through the effort to reform and become more efficient, with in excess of 1 million people looking for jobs. The concern that economic difficulty will extend through, if not worsen in, the second half of the year is gaining momentum. The business community estimates the cost of expanding maternity leave alone from the current 60 days to 90 days will exceed 50 billion won ($38 million) annually. It is hard not to agree that the maternity bill as pending will mean considerable added burden to the employers already taking serious toil. It is because of the economic situation we are faced with that, despite its honorable and unassailable intentions, the bill could lead to the likely and unwanted consequence of businesses shunning female employees. No matter how much the government says it will fight it, would not businesses mean business and go for what costs less?

So we are at a crossroad where it is necessary to find a common ground. Paid menstruation leave, which is a remnant of the Japanese colonial rule, should be abolished, and maternity leave including that for prenatal checkups and miscarriages should be established as proposed. In place of paid menstruation leave, employers should provide appropriate benefits to working women in physically demanding positions. It is also the practical choice to postpone partial wage payments for infant assistance. It is time for the government and the business community to cease squabble and come to a common ground.

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