As the Italians have realized under their pro-life Prime Minister, women would be able to follow their natural instincts of having children (at least two to three) if they are given equal opportunities as the men to be employed. This desire is not only based on yearnings for self-realization and fulfillment, but is an economic reality because in today’s circumstances, it is hard for a middle-income household to survive on the single income of only one spouse. In fact, I saw this reality even in the generation of my own parents.
My parents brought to this world seven children during the late 1930s and early 1940s. We belonged to a middle-income household headed by my father, a medical doctor who worked all his professional life in public health. His government salary was inadequate to support such a large family. So, we saw our mother trying to earn supplementary income when we were small through selling products like tablea (chocolate tablets), alahas (jewelry) and other miscellaneous consumer items. When we were older, my mother started to use her skills as a professional dentist, employed first in public hospitals, and later on for more than 20 years as the school dentist of the Assumption Convent on Herran St. in Malate. As far as I can remember, this was the general rule among middle-income families. The mother always found some ways to supplement the main income earned by the father.
As we saw in the Italian case, this is one of the solutions to the demographic crisis being sought by the present pro-life Government under Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni. In the United States, there are current efforts to give equal opportunity to husband and wife to seek employment by not putting all the burden of childrearing on the mother. In a recent article that appeared in the Financial Times (Sept. 25, 2023), Emma Jacobs reports on ongoing efforts of large firms in New York City and in Wall Street to offer extended paid leave for new fathers as they seek to close the gender pay gap, reduce discrimination against women when it comes to hiring and promotion, and attract and retain staff. A good number of firms are already adopting gender neutral policies that offer a minimum amount of leave for all parents with extra time following pregnancy.
There seems to be some resistance in the US to the idea that husband and wife should share equally the duties of caring for the home and the children. There is still a disconnect between policy and reality, as employers and staff grapple with the cultural and practical challenges of making more equal benefits work. Some fathers are encountering biases similar to those that their female partners are hoping to escape. Overall, only 13% of private sector workers are employed at workplaces that offer paid paternity leave to all male employees. In contrast, fathers’ ability to take time off is enshrined in law in the UK where a 2015 shared parental leave policy gives mothers and fathers the right to share up to 50 weeks of leave after the birth or adoption of their child.
In the Philippines, there is a law that provides for paternity leaves. Under RA 8187, paternity leave benefits are given to married male employees whose legal wife underwent delivery or miscarriage. The benefit applies to all male employees regardless of employment status. The benefit consists of seven days of leave credits with full pay. The benefit applies to the first four deliveries of the male employee’s legal wife, with whom he is cohabiting. The term “cohabiting” refers to the obligation of the husband and wife to live together unless there is a justifying circumstance for them living separately. This may include situations wherein either one of them may be required to live elsewhere due to work (e.g., deployment, overseas work, etc.) as well as due to medical reasons such as when either one of them has to be admitted to a hospital for his/her protection from diseases or be quarantined to avoid the spread of a communicable disease.
Paternity leave benefits are leave credits extended to a married male employee “for purposes of enabling him to effectively lend support to his wife in her period of recovery and/or in the nursing of the newly born child.” The benefit consists of seven days of leave credits with full pay. The Department of Labor and Employment (DoLE) has interpreted the benefit as seven calendar days, and not working days. The leave credit is equal to the basic salary, including mandatory and/or integrated allowances. The pay shall not be less than the minimum wage. The benefit is not convertible to cash. This means that the covered male employee is unable to convert to cash the leave credits if they are unused by the end of the year — unlike service incentive leaves. That is because the purpose of the paternity leave credits is to afford the covered male employee the opportunity to attend to his legitimate wife after pregnancy.
As discussed in a previous article in this series, the most serious consequence of falling fertility rates is not the decline in the absolute number of people in any given country. It is the ageing crisis that hits hardest the daily lives of the fewer younger people in a society in which a greater proportion of the population are living longer, up to their 90s or even 100 years, as in the extreme case of Japan. In addition to maternity and paternity leaves for those who are helping to keep the fertility rates at above the 2.1 replacement rate, there should be concern of legislators and employers for what business columnist Pilita Clark of the Financial Times (Sept. 18, 2023) refers to as “the hidden carers in your workforce.” As many high-income and middle-income households are already experiencing in the Philippines, there is an increasing scarcity of caregivers who can tend to the older members of their families. Many of our professional caregivers are becoming OFWs in such countries as Japan and the ageing countries in the European Union.
Ms. Clark reports that there have been multiple couples in the UK, some with pre-teen children, whose weekends and holidays had become a blur of motorway dashes and train trips to attend to two sets of deteriorating parents. In the UK, researchers estimate that the equivalent of 600 people a day give up paid work to take care of ageing relatives. Women have a 50-50 chance of being a caregiver by the age of 46, while men face the same odds by the time they turn 57. Official figures estimate that there are at least 5.7 million unpaid UK caregivers in total. This suggests that countries that are facing falling fertility rates should already start passing laws that will give workers the legal right to take time off to care, plus extra days of leave for doing the caring.
This year, 2023, the UK Parliament passed the Carers Leave Act, which allows one week’s unpaid leave a year for workers caring for a relative or dependent. Without being obliged by law, enlightened employers may want to follow the lead of Centrika, the UK energy group which has, for more than a decade, been offering 10 days of paid caregiver leave and in 2019 allowed another 10 days if taken with matched annual leave. This means that if two days off were needed, one would be caregiver leave and the other annual leave.
Although the Philippines will most likely maintain its fertility rate at replacement level in the long run, it will not completely avoid the ageing crisis. It is not too early for our legislators and employers to plan for the day when we may have to provide for “caregiver leave.”
(To be continued.)
Bernardo M. Villegas has a Ph.D. in Economics from Harvard, is professor emeritus at the University of Asia and the Pacific, and a visiting professor at the IESE Business School in Barcelona, Spain. He was a member of the 1986 Constitutional Commission.