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What do the United States, Papua New Guinea and Oman have in Common?

What do the United States, Papua New Guinea and Oman have in Common?

A dad holding a newborn child

Of 185 nations, the United States is part of a small group of three, alongside Papua New Guinea and Oman. The three countries that do not have a national paid family leave program for workers.

Other countries go to great lengths to care for newborn children and their mothers. In Germany, mothers not only receive paid family leave, but also have access to a midwife the day after the family leaves the hospital to check the health of the baby and mother, and a small subsidy to help cover the cost of childrearing. Norway offers 35 weeks of maternity leave at full salary. Japan provides a year of paid paternity leave at 50% salary. Each country’s paid leave policy varies, but the fact that nearly all developed nations provide some form of paid family and medical leave suggests that the global community recognizes paid leave not only as a benefit, but as a human right.

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 provided American workers job protection and unpaid time off to take care of newborns or to recover from illness, but too many workers are unable to take advantage of this benefit because of the requisite financial burden. Today, only 12 percent of workers have access to paid family leave through their employers. Workers who do receive these benefits are disproportionally well-paid, highly-educated and male, meaning that those who most need the benefit too often find it out of reach.

The Jewish tradition recognizes our communal responsibility to treat workers fairly, both by providing fair wages and working condition. The rabbis of the Talmud taught in the case in which an employer says to workers, "I raised your wages in order that you would begin early and stay late," they may reply, "You raised our wages in order that we would do better work" (Bava Matzia 83a). The understanding is that fair working conditions are provided as a basic measure of human dignity, not as a special privilege or incentive.

For all of these reasons, Congress should take swift action and pass the FAMILY Act (H.R. 1439/S. 786), which would provide family and medical leave to all workers through an insurance program that provides 66% of wages for up to 12 weeks. The benefit would be available to all workers regardless of the size of the company and would be funded through a small employee and employer contributions, costing the employee and employer only $1.50 a week.

It is time for the United States to catch up with the rest of the world. Urge Congress to pass the FAMILY Act by sending a letter to your members of Congress here. Also visit the RAC’s page on labor issues to learn about other ways to advance the rights of all workers.

Tyler Dratch is the Torah, text, and tradition coordinator at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (the RAC) and a rabbinical student at Hebrew College in Newton, MA.

Tyler Dratch

Published: 5/12/2016