Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

How Many Types of Leaves Bulgarian Mothers Should Use

Ralitsa Kovacheva, November 14, 2011

Do women, who are on maternity leave, have to also be entitled to paid annual leave? This question, raised by Petar Ganev, an economist with the Institute for Market Economics (IME), unleashed stormy reactions in the media and social networks in Bulgaria.

For euinside he explained his position as follows: "The question here is whether there is overlapping of rights. On the one hand, when you work you are entitled to take a vacation. On the other, when you go on maternity leave you receive a relevant compensation. Both are rights which no one attacks. Motherhood is counted as a period of employment, which is also normal. The question is whether women should take advantage of both rights simultaneously – to get maternity compensation and to accumulate annual paid leave."

Petar Ganev has made this point during a discussion on Bulgarian 2012 budget, not expecting this to become such a piece of news. Indeed, this is just one of the many issues that can be risen in terms of the need for reforms to reduce business costs and increase competitiveness. However, it is a good example of how many things could be changed (but how difficult it will be!), so that "social justice" would not become a burden on business. According to Petar Ganev, "this may become a problem for companies (especially small ones), since they not only have to keep a mother's job but they also have to pay an accumulated amount in the form of a leave. While motherhood is paid by the National Social Security Institute, the leaves are paid by companies."

Leaving aside the question whether it is big or small expense for companies, there is another, even bigger problem - the refusal of companies to hire mothers or potential ones. It is an open secret that at job interviews there are often questions like "Are you married?", "Do you have children?" and even "Are you planning to have children and when?" The need for deep reforms in the labour market, social and pension systems is one of the most often repeated 'mantras' by the European Commission. Such examples clearly show how long and how hard this process could be.

The question is worth discussing at least for two reasons. One is that in our opinion (euinside), there are too many social benefits that burden the budget and will create a greater burden in the future. A good example is the early retirement privileges, which those who receive them understandably do not want to give up and the government does not remove them for populist reasons. As we have repeatedly written (and as claimed by economists and the European Commission), social spending will exert more and more pressure on the budget. It is therefore important to examine carefully all the "bonuses" that can be eliminated or reduced.

Another reason to pay attention to this issue, which is hardly the most important possible reform, is the unanimous angry public reaction. Journalists from various media and people on social networks and forums have risen as one to defend the rights of mothers, scoffing at the neo liberal "market fundamentalists". Yet if we look at the case without emotions and ideologemes, it comes to the following: the employee is entitled to a paid leave to rest from work. When you don’t work you don’t need to rest.

euinside's team consists mostly of women, some of us having children, so one can hardly say that we do not understand what motherhood means. We realise that childcare is a hard work but you cannot take a leave from it. The employer in this case are children, not the company you are working for. So if there is data showing that this will save costs for the businesses or will prevent employers form refusing to hire expectant mothers, let the paid leave during maternity be eliminated. Moreover, the paid maternity leave in Bulgaria is enormously long, compared to other European countries, (we do not discuss the amount of compensations, but duration only).

Mothers can demand much more meaningful rights like securing adequate child care (nannies, nurseries and kindergartens) so they can be able to work; flexible working time; educational system that ensures results without mothers having to do half of the teachers' work etc. Or for example, the notorious monthly child allowance of 35 BGN (approximately 18 euros), which is, on top of it, not given to all children, can go directly to the kindergartens (schools) instead of parents having to "donate" or bring toilet paper and soap.

There are many things that can be done. As long as there are experts who can think of and suggest them, political will to implement them and society, ready to discuss and possibly – accept them. Because the notorious "reforms" that have long become a boring and empty cliche are actually these - many small changes aimed at working more and better, in order to get more and live better.