Investing in family-friendly policies is good for the family, business and the economy, says UNICEF
Family-friendly policies such as paid parental leave help companies stay competitive in talent attraction and retention as well as building a solid foundation for human capital development in Thailand.
Investing in family-friendly policies, such as paid parental leave for mothers and fathers, flexible work arrangements, childcare options and protection for pregnant and nursing women, will help nurture human capital and ensure business stability, according to a report launched by UNICEF and the Sasin School of Management’s Sustainability & Entrepreneurship Centre in February.
The report Family-friendly Policies and Practices in Thailand’s Private Sector is the result of an online survey taken with 100 private companies in Thailand to investigate such policies already in place and the attitudes of private sector executives on the benefits and challenges of implementing those policies.
The goals of such policies are to create a work-life balance through flexible work arrangements and support for parental leave and breastfeeding, to allow parents to give their children the best start in life even while working.
Among the businesses taking part in the survey between September 2020 and May 2021, many reported that the family-friendly policies helped reduce staff turnover rates, enhance productivity and loyalty and boost workplace morale.
Kyungsun Kim, UNICEF Thailand Representative, said during the webinar launch of the report that family-friendly policies in workplaces should cover all stages of childcare, beginning with “assisting parents who anticipate their child’s birth – making sure that mothers will have time to seek health care during pregnancy and parents can continue to support their children after birth.”
“That mothers and fathers have time at home to care for their newborn, and that mothers have the space and flexible work time to continue breastfeeding when they return to work up to the first 2 years of the child’s life,” she said.
Kim said the Thai Cabinet resolution in January, which extends paid maternity leave for female civil servants from 98 days to 6 months and introduces a 15-day paternity leave was “a great move in the right direction as we need civil servants to set an example on family-friendly policies. I hope there will be even more advancement in the length of paternity leave and that this policy can be extended to all workers in [other sectors] in Thailand.”
Kim added that family-friendly policies can help enlarge the talent pool, workplace productivity and earnings and address the issues arising from Thailand’s declining birth rate, which stood at its lowest in 70 years in 2021. The report echoes these suggestions, also emphasising the importance of government and business in taking collective action to introduce and expand these policies and their benefits.
On the other hand, the Ministry of Labour supports a better quality of life of the Thai workforce, according to Boonchob Suttamanaswong, the ministry’s permanent secretary. Businesses are encouraged to set up breastfeeding zones with a dedicated break for milk pumping and on-site child care centres. The ministry is also looking to increase child support grants for families as part of a social security funding scheme to provide better social protection during and post-pandemic.
Among the companies surveyed in the report, 27 per cent are small-sized or employ fewer than 50 workers. Twenty per cent employ between 50 and 200 people, and large-scale companies that employ over 200 people make up 53 per cent.
Thai-owned businesses share the largest percentage of those surveyed at 63 per cent, while the rest are multinational or global workplaces. Companies surveyed operate in sectors ranging from services to property and construction, technology, agriculture and food and finance.
Just over half of the companies surveyed said they maintained child rights policies, compared to four in five that said they had corporate social responsibility policies in place.
Key policies brought up in the report are parental leave, childcare policies, flexible work arrangements, protection of pregnant women and support of breastfeeding.
Ninety-six per cent of the companies surveyed have maternity leave policies in place. However, only 37 per cent of them offer paternity leave. Companies in the financial sector and that are large-sized and international have the highest adoption of paternity leave.
Among all the companies surveyed, 85 per cent do not have a policy to directly support childcare services for employees. Among the remaining companies, seven offer a nursery care centre in the workplace, four provide funds to help individual employees cover nursery or kindergarten costs, three provide support through a supplier of off-site childcare and one company offers travel support.
Support for breastfeeding is also scant among the surveyed businesses. Less than 30 per cent maintain a dedicated lactating space, and less than 10 per cent offer reduced working hours or paid breastfeeding breaks.
Meanwhile, 74 per cent of companies surveyed specify measures protecting pregnant and nursing women, which include protecting them from contract termination during pregnancy and ensuring health and safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Adoption rates of these measures are much lower among companies in the financial and service sectors, according to the report.
Anantachai Yoonprathom, CEO of the Sustainable Business Development Institute, said that firms must not only heed the market regulations on the best business practices, but also calls from investors and consumers who could boycott goods and services from companies, or companies’ suppliers, found in breach of human and child rights.
“Good governance affects [consumer] decision-making and the business capacity of an organisation, which means it affects the company’s finances too,” he said.
During the webinar launch of the report, representatives from Thailand-based companies, the delivery start-up LINE MAN Wongnai, jewellery maker Pranda and real estate giant Sansiri shared their practices of family-friendly policies at their workplaces.
Anontawong Marukpitak, LINE MAN Wongnai’s Head of People, said the average age of the firm’s 800 employees is 29 years and that a majority are single. Their office nevertheless makes sure to provide a breastfeeding facility where new mothers can pump and store breast milk in the fridge provided, in addition to other measures including provision of education fees for employees’ children and coupons for home deliveries of meals.
Pranda Group’s Ratchanee Kwansri said a childcare centre available onsite at their jewellery factory was crucial for jewellery makers to have the creativity and focus needed to produce fine craft pieces. Pranda has provided childcare services for its 2,000 employees for the past 30 years, she said, which has played a key part in creating trust and harmony at work as employees can drop by the childcare centre before work or at lunch to spend time with their children.
Sansiri’s Samatcha Promsiri said the company provided a breastfeeding room at their headquarters and had a generous paternity leave period of two weeks. This extended to LGBT couples in cases where two parents needed to take paternity leave at the same time. Also at various construction sites, kids were barred from entering for safety reasons, until in recent years, when the company used to provide childcare centres overseen by teachers so that construction workers could bring their children there while working, he said.
Sarah Shahyar, Chief of Social Policy at UNICEF Thailand, said there seems to be a “wage penalty” for working mothers in Thailand.
“An analysis of the labour force data of 30 years in Thailand shows that there is an increased wage disparity between women with children and women without children,” she said.
Moreover, family-friendly policies must respond to the demographic trends in Thailand, an already ageing society.
UNICEF recently finalised a five-year cooperation agreement with the Government of Thailand. The goals of quality early childhood development for children, reduction of child poverty and protection from exploitation and violence are part of UNICEF’s “Family-Friendly Package” focus to advance long-term national priorities and the Sustainable Development Goals, also building on Thailand’s drive to be a regional and global leader in innovation.
UNICEF remains committed to working with parents to ensure every child has a chance at the best start in life in Thailand. Investing in these early moments requires family-friendly policies, and urgent action is needed. Ultimately, no parent should have to choose between a paycheck and a bedtime story.