The Neta Center (Women for Bettering Their Future) has proposed altering the laws surrounding maternity leave.
Currently, maternity leave lasts for 14 weeks. If the mother has been working in the same position for the previous 10 months, she receives a monthly salary from the National Insurance Institute (NII, or Bituach Leumi) based on the average of her last 3 monthly paychecks. After the first six weeks, the father may take over all or part of the remaining leave. Mothers can extend their maternity leave, albeit without pay, to a full year after birth without risk of getting fired (at least in theory).
The National Insurance Institute (NII) is strict about maternity leave. If a woman gets caught visiting her office, or doing work at home, the NII will refuse to pay the salary. Sometimes the NII grants a permit for new mothers to work, especially if they are business owners.
Neta recommends allowing women to choose when they will work during their maternity leave, and get a proportional payment from the NII. If she decides to go back to work six weeks after birth, or go in for a day here or there, or work from home, the NII would dock her salary accordingly.Marina Slobodkin of Kadima agreed to sponsor such a law in the Knesset.
Neta wants to loosen the rules, in light of a study among 204 women with academic degrees. Fifty percent said they would like to be able to work during their maternity leave.
On the radio, the head of the center claimed that inflexible maternity leave puts women at a disadvantage in their career. One accountant recalled how with her second baby, she gave birth in the middle of a big project. When she came back, she had a lot of extra work to get to where she had been in her career before the birth. Her fourth child was born in between projects and was able to take a full five months.
Neta represents professional women. But it is the poorer women, in menial jobs, who would suffer when their employers ask why they aren’t taking flexible maternity leave. A columnist in Haaretz complained that Neta is trying to take away the only freedom women have from their employers–the three months after they give birth.
Israeli women’s rights organizations have worked hard to protect maternity leave. It was recently extended by two weeks to fit more in line with European norms, despite the cost to the economy. Maternity leave not only helps the mother recover from birth, it ensures that the baby can be with its mother during this critical time. Since the father can take over the maternity leave after the initial six weeks, his career could share the hit. (The fact that this rarely happens cannot be blamed on legislation–parents have to work this out between themselves.)
While there are many practical and important reasons that mothers would want to spend some time at work before their maternity leave is up, it makes me wonder how much parents are willing to adjust their lifestyles in order to have children.
So what do you think? Is it sexist to keep mothers away from their jobs after birth? Would you choose the option of part-time work rather than a full maternity leave?
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