If you look at the law - Republic Act No. 10028, DOLE was tasked to issue guidelines on how establishments can be exempted from lactation stations. However, while reading through the guidelines, I had a sinking feeling that this issuance would lead to discriminatory practices among employers against hiring of women employees. Recently, the New York Times ran this article entitled "When Family-Friendly Policies Backfire":
They can end up discouraging employers from hiring women in the first place, because they fear women will leave for long periods or use expensive benefits. “For employers, it becomes much easier to justify discrimination,” said Sarah Jane Glynn, director of women’s economic policy at the Center for American Progress.
More so in this case, where the guidelines' target are employers without women employees.
There are two things that worry me here:
1. Women of child-bearing age are immediately at a disadvantage in getting hired in companies with no lactation stations. For sure, the employer will say that there is no discrimination in hiring. But in practice, what really happens? It will be very easy for the employer to hire someone else and give a "valid" excuse in not hiring the woman applicant. Otherwise, the employer will be required to set up a lactation station.
2. The issuance of a certificate of exemption is a further dis-incentive to hire women workers who are of child-bearing age. Based on the guidelines, even if the Certificate of Exemption is good for 2 years, it can be revoked anytime once the conditions mentioned in Section 2 above are no longer met. Thus, again, employers would most likely choose not to hire women employees of child-bearing age.
I just attended a seminar at the Civil Service Commission with DOLE employees as fellow participants. I raised the points above with them and they agreed - especially since one of them had a wife who breastfed both their kids until 2 years old.
I am wondering why there was even a need to specify exemptions to the law. In fact, DOLE recognized that there are certain establishments with peculiar circumstances such that only a "lactation station equivalent" could be set-up.
Perhaps it would've been better not to provide an opportunity to obtain a total exemption but rather require the exemptible establishments to still provide a lactation station equivalent.
Referring back to the New York TimesThe New York Times article I quoted above, for family-friendly policies to succeed, they must be gender neutral.
Perhaps the most successful way to devise policies that help working families but avoid unintended consequences, people who study the issue say, is to make them gender neutral. In places like Sweden and Quebec, for instance, parental leave policies encourage both men and women to take time off for a new baby.
While parental leaves can readily be made gender-neutral, applying this to the establishment of lactation stations appears to be more challenging. Would increasing the current length of maternity leave and make it available for both parents be a solution? Or should it be a complete change in mindset - emphasis on breastfeeding as a public health issue, normalizing it and more information/immersion campaigns addressed to employers and establishments?
I plan to write DOLE once I've collected my thoughts and hope to present them with options on how to tweak these guidelines. If you have comments/suggestions on how we can improve these guidelines, do leave a note below!
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