Friday, February 6, 2015

Child cost (Part 1): Maternity leave

When we discussed the cost of children in class last week, I realized that the US maternity leave, as provided by law, is unpaid. 

I was a bit surprised by the fact that maternity leave is unpaid in the US. The system of maternity leave in Switzerland is paid. But in my opinion, it’s not enough, and I would advocate a parental leave, as I will explain in my next blog. 

First of all, paid maternity leave is not only Swiss, but exists in all European countries. Even though Switzerland is not part of the EU, there are some bilateral agreements between the EU and Switzerland, and all Swiss legislation is euro-compatible. So, the law of Switzerland fits the requirements of the EU. 

I don’t consider Switzerland to be a progressive country in the matter of feminism. The federal voting right (which is the voting right on a federal level) was accorded to women in 1971. The last state (Appenzell Rhodes-Int√©rieures/Appenzell Innerrhoden) to give the right to vote to women for the state level did so only in 1990. In fact, the population of that state, through its vote, denied women the right to vote, but the federal court decided it was contrary to the Swiss constitutional. Even if the government was composed of a majority of women in 2010, as one of the previous posts showed, women are still underrepresented in high responsibility jobs. A gap still exists between men’s salaries and women’s salaries, everything else being equal, and “typically feminine” jobs are still devaluated, etc. Moreover,  it took sixty years to adopt a law providing maternity leave. Indeed, the Swiss constitutional provision establishing maternity insurance was decided in 1945. Subsequent laws, however, proposed different ways to implement this insurance, and were rejected several times by voters through the direct democracy system (so-called referendum). Finally, voters, on July 1st 2005, that is to say sixty years later, adopted the law implementing this right to paid maternity leave. 

To explain the system, a little digression about men and military service is necessary. In Switzerland, military service is (still) mandatory for men. In order to compensate for their temporary inability to work at their workplace, the state created a “loss of income insurance” for them in the 1950s. What was finally adopted in 2005 was simply to extend this compensation to maternity. Since then, women have the right to a maternity leave of 14 weeks after the birth of a child. They receive 80 % of their salary, which is paid by the so-called “loss of income insurance.” However, the amount of money available per day is subject to a maximum. This means that women, in case of pregnancy, or men, in case of military service, who receive a high income, will not get 80 % percent of their salary. Employers, however, remain free to compensate the 20% of the remaining salary, or to pay the usual amount of salary in the case of high-income earners. 

From my point of view, maternity leave is a great step in the achievement of more equality in the society. The cost of childcare is, at least in part, shared by the society, because the mother would still be paid when she is prevented to work by her pregnancy. 

As stated in many of our class discussions and in many readings, the public sphere was organized by men, for men. Maternity leave is one means to adapt this public sphere to the needs of (a great number of) women. For sure, not all women want children; neither all men want to participate to the public sphere. But not having children doesn’t mean that we don’t have to participate in building a better society. Would it be fair if everybody’s taxes were not used for school? To the debate about wether children are a public good or not, I would say they are. 

As a constraint which has weighed on a lot of women, and moreover on single-mothers, the loss of income resulting from pregnancy should be taken into account. I really think maternity leave is a wonderful improvement, but it’s not enough. A parental leave would be a better solution, and that will be the topic of my next post.


Ahva said...

I was shocked to discover that women in Switzerland did not have the right to vote in federal elections until 1971, and did not have the right to vote in some state elections until 1990! Your post interested me to see when other countries granted women the right to vote. The following link provides a timeline of women's suffrage by country:

Notably, New Zealand was the first country to grant women the right to vote, in 1893, while women in Saudi Arabia were not given this right until 2011 (though the right will take effect this year). Not surprisingly, western countries led the women's suffrage movement.

Sara said...

I liked your comparison between paid maternity leave and public schooling. It is true that not every woman in the U.S. would take advantage of paid maternity leave, because some women do not give birth. It is also true that not every adult has a child that takes advantage of public schools. There are many entitlements only given to specific populations in need. Those on maternity leave, particularly low-income women, are definitely in need.