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Groups hail paternity leave plan, suggest room for improvement

TAIPEI, Taiwan -- While lauding New Taipei City's mulled plans for paid prenatal and paternity leaves, women rights organizations say that the government has to tackle discrimination against pregnancy.

This problem leads some employees to skip their pregnancy-related leave entitlement because they fear discrimination in the work place, women rights groups said in their call for the government to ensure a more pregnancy-friendly workplace.

Lin Shiou-yi, director of the development division at the Awakening Foundation, said that long term discrimination against women in an unfriendly working environment is the main reason why Taiwan's birth rate is so low. According to statistics released by the Ministry of Labor, the majority of the Gender Equality in Employment Act violations filed are related to disputes caused by discrimination against pregnant women in the work place.

Lin also added that the Labor Standards Act and the Gender Equality in Employment Act clearly state that employers are required to give paid maternal leaves and postnatal leaves to employees. However, in most cases, women who apply for leave face discrimination such as not being guaranteed a position on their return or being subject to unreasonable treatment. Such difficulty, Lin suggests, is the main reason why many working women are not willing to have children.

The New Taipei City government aims to be the first regional government office to launch labor laws to make employees eligible for five days of prenatal examination leave, two days of prenatal examination accompaniment leave and extended paternal leave days.

Lin also added that it is important for local governments to be aware that there has to be a friendly working environment for women to encourage them to have children, in addition to passing labor benefits for pregnant women. Even if the government provides eligible leave days for pregnant women, they will not be taken if the workplace remains hostile and discriminatory toward pregnant women.

Professor Mei-Chun Liu at National Chengchi University's Institute for Labor Research said that it is impossible to increase birth rates in Taiwan by just issuing paid prenatal examination leaves. According to current regulations, employers are required to provide two months maternal leave for employees, and adding more days to eligible paid leaves will create more disputes between employees and employers.

Lin said that in order to prevent discrimination against pregnant women in the workplace, the government needs to actively conduct strict inspections in the workplace to prevent mistreatment of pregnant women and their partners when applying for eligible paid leaves.

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