Gov’t should give companies a role in lifting birth rate

The China Post news staff

It is heartening that Taiwan’s government is planning to create a special office under the Health Ministry to address the problem of declining birth rates.

To effectively combat the problem, however, the government needs more than institutions that can pool resources from relevant ministries — it needs to harness the major social forces of the economy to create the conditions of a fairer society that promotes an environment that will foster newborns and help them thrive. Although birth rates rose slightly from a historic low of 0.91 babies born per woman in 2010 to about 1.1 this year, seniors also outnumbered young people for the first time. Experts and government officials are finally learning that improving a declining birth rate isn’t just about providing subsidies for creating larger families.

For starters, there should be a consistent national social welfare policy.

Currently, civil servants are entitled to up to one week of family care leave annually, of which five days are fully paid leave. Employees in non-public sector employment, however, are allotted seven days of nonpaid leave annually for family care. Not only should the amount of paid annual leave be the same for the public and private sectors, it should also be greater. Would-be parents must consider parental leave and the costs of child care. In Taiwan, where housing prices are sky-high and wages are stagnant (or have even declined after factoring in inflation), concerted government action is needed to strengthen regulations against overwork, pass legislation guaranteeing paid paternity leave and correct property speculation bubbles. A recent job bank survey has laid bare another piece of the puzzle that affects birth rates: job dissatisfaction. Taiwanese millennials are working longer and are not making enough to start a family. Even if young workers never aspire to home ownership, rent prices in Taipei can eat away from a quarter up to a third of salaries for workers at the start of their careers. The government’s ineffectiveness at implementing the five-day workweek so far signals that it must step up communication with the corporate sector. It will also need to deliver more convincing arguments that companies that give back to society are ensuring their own sustainability. Currently, heads of corporations make investment decisions and operations policies that are guided only by the whims of the market. The government needs to send a clear message to businesses: Invest in Taiwan’s future to create a sustainable business model. Former Health Minister Lin Tzou-yien recently suggested that the nation pay for child care until the child reaches age 6. His successor said the idea was good, but that state coffers were already drained.

What if the government incentivized companies to contribute to a national program for child care? For example, corporations that invest in the fund could be given preferential access to investment opportunities.

In addition, corporations that fulfill their responsibility to society by regulating overtime, paying workers decent wages and providing paternity leave benefits would also be rewarded with priority to public contracts and its purchase of goods and services.