On October 1, 2018, representatives of the Senate and House of Representatives (HOR) in the Bicameral Conference Committee finally approved the final version of the proposed Expanded Maternity Leave (EML) law, one that pregnant Pinays have been waiting for more than a year to pass.

Our country has the lowest number of paid maternity leave days in Southeast Asia. The International Labor Organization recommends 98 days for paid maternity leave.

The bicam's approved version of the EML consolidated the bill from both chambers of Philippine Congress: House Bill No. 4113, which was passed on the lower house in September 2018, and Senate Bill No. 1305, which was passed on March 2017.

EML will now be submitted to both the Senate and HOR for ratification before sending it to the Office of the President. It will finally become law once Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, who has expressed his full support of extending the current maternity leave, signs it.

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The most apparent difference between the two version of the proposed EML is the number of paid maternity leave days, but there are other notable provisions of both proposed measures. The final bicameral version of the EML has not been made available to the public yet, but here's what we know so far. 

Increased paid maternity leave days

The Senate's version put the maternity leave at 120 paid leave days, while the HOR's bill offered to extend it to 100 days. The bicameral's final version seems to be a compromise: it provides 105 days of paid maternity leave to all new working mothers both in the government and private sector. The leave now applies to every pregnancy, abortion or miscarriage, or stillbirth, regardless of marital status. 

The current law only allows new moms a maternity leave with pay for 60 days for vaginal delivery and 78 days for women who gave birth via cesarean section (CS). They can also claim the leave benefit for only up to four instances of pregnancy or miscarriage.

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Transferable leave credits

The bicam's EML version allows seven days from the 105 paid leave credits to be transferred to the new dad. (Senator Risa Hontiveros dubbed it as "daddy quota" in an email statement to GMA News.) Sharing the leave credits with a fellow caregiver had been a key point in the Senate's proposal. It's now specified to be shared with new fathers, regardless if they are married or living in the same home.

The current Republic Act No. 8187 or the Paternity Leave Act of 1996 only provides seven days of paternity leave. It can only be claimed by new fathers who are married and is living with the new mom and newborn.

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Option for a 30-day extension without pay

Both the Senate and HOR versions had allowed for 30-day maternity leave but without pay, and it stayed in the final version. The new mom needs to give her employer a written notice ahead of time. Extending maternity leave days should also not affect the female employee's tenure.

Solo moms get extra paid maternity leave days

Single moms will be entitled to 15 additional paid maternity leave days, on top of her solo parent leave credits. The HOR version did not include this provision, but the Senate version offered it to single moms who qualify to receive benefits under the Republic Act No. 8972 or the Solo Parent's Welfare Act of 2000.

"At a time when women workers are increasingly crushed by the pressure of making ends meet amid rising prices, longer paid maternity period is one of the few positive things that the government can enact," Gabriela Party List Representative Emmi de Jesus and a member of the bicameral committee said in a press statement.

De Jesus then called on the Social Security System (SSS) to cover the cost of additional maternity benefits for female employees in the private sector but without increasing contribution payments since it will further reduce a family's take-home salary. SSS should instead focus its efforts on addressing inefficient collection, failed investments, and foregone revenues from loans, the lawmaker suggested.

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After the HOR passed its version of the EML bill, SSS assistant vice president for media affairs, Louie Sebastian, suggested that lawmakers should increase membership contribution to 11.3 percent from the current 11 percent to raise funds for additional maternity benefit payment, ABS-CBN News reported.

The EML's final version slaps a fine of at least P20,000 on employers who refuse to comply once it's finally a law. It's a significant change from the Senate's proposed minimum fine of at least P5,000.

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This story originally appeared on Smartparenting.com.ph.

* Minor edits have been made by the Femalenetwork.com editors.

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