BEIJING - Female workers in China are expected to enjoy longer maternity leave from work - before and after childbirth. They will be forbidden to do certain hazardous jobs after a new regulation comes into effect.
The draft regulation, which the State Council's Legislative Affairs Office posted on its website on Monday, would replace the original that became effective in 1988.
The new rules would prolong a working woman's maternity leave from the current 90 days to 98 days.
It erased a clause in the current regulation, which says "the regulation does not apply to those who violate the family planning policy".
Feng Xiliang, a labor expert at Beijing-based Capital University of Economics and Business, said the deletion shows a tendency to adjust to the current situation.
"Some big cities such as Beijing and Shanghai are seeing comparatively low birth rates. The country now permits a couple - both of whom are the only children of their parents - to have a second baby. Deleting the clause shows a move to protect working women's rights, whether or not they violate the family planning policy. It's a progress," he said.
Other benefits listed as part of the regulation includes at least a two-week leave from work for women suffering a miscarriage (or having an abortion), if she has been pregnant for less than four months. Women in a similar situation after a pregnancy of four months, or longer, could enjoy at least six weeks' leave.
The draft suggests that employers should allow women with infants less than a year old at least an hour a day for breast-feeding. Employers will be asked not to extend the work hours or put women on night duty during their breast-feeding period.
The new rules also stipulate that medical fees incurred during childbirth or miscarriage would be covered by the maternity insurance fund. In cases of employers not buying maternity insurance for workers, they should be paying the medical fees.
Women are not allowed to work at underground mines, and they should not be given a job that requires one to bear a heavier-than-20-kilogram load more than six times in an hour, according to the new regulation.
During her menstrual period, a woman is not allowed to work in extreme cold environment or bear a heavy load. A pregnant woman should be exempted from working in the presence of excessively hazardous chemicals. She is also not allowed to do work that requires workers to bow or squat frequently, according to the regulation.
The public has a month to comment on the draft, proposed by the Ministry of Human Resources and Social Security and All China Federation of Trade Unions.
"We hope the new rules will protect female workers better and raise awareness about protecting working women's rights," said Ding Dajian, head of the All China Federation of Trade Unions' women workers' affairs department.
Ding said her organization would join hands with labor departments to strengthen the implementation of the regulation after it comes into effect, and that they would push enterprises to sign special collective contracts with female workers and write those benefits into agreements to better protect working women's interests.
There are about 137 million female employees in the country.
Many women workers said they welcomed the new rules.
"I'm glad that I would have more days off to take care of my baby and adequate breast-feeding time is quite important for the health of an infant," said Wang Qiao, 29, a six-and-half-months pregnant woman working at a telecommunication firm in Fuzhou, capital of East China's Fujian province.
"The new regulation sounds more human-oriented and will ensure that working women's rights are protected in a more comprehensive way," said Chen Wei, a lawyer at the Yingke Law Firm.
However, Chen suggests the government provide more financial support for small businesses to deal with the possible rise in labor cost.