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When it comes to pregnancy, women being told to ‘wait their turn’

Posted on : Oct.11,2014 14:04 KST

                        
Hankyoreh file photo

Recent finds nurses being punished at work for not timing their pregnancy in accordance with their workplace’s predetermined order

By Choi Sung-jin, staff reporter

“I thought that, even so, everyone would be happy for me since it was my first child, and it had been so hard to get pregnant. But the first thing the chief nurse said was, ‘Do you really have to have the baby now?’ It wasn’t my turn, you see.”

The “turn” mentioned by Lee, 31, a nurse working at the emergency room at a university hospital in Seoul, refers to a predetermined order of pregnancy. An organizational policy that women planning to have a baby must follow this order when they get pregnant is called a pregnancy turn system. Lee recalls that she was ostracized at work after she failed to wait for her turn last year.

“Nurses in the emergency room work in three shifts, and it makes things hard for everyone else in the shift if one nurse suddenly has to leave. This is why we have to let the hospital known in advance about our marriage and pregnancy plans, and we are assigned our turn for having a baby,” Lee said during a phone interview with the Hankyoreh on Oct. 10.

“Employees who get pregnant or who apply for maternity leave in violation of the predetermined order know they are going to have problems with human resources.”

A significant number of women working at medical facilities including major public hospitals and university hospitals around the country have experienced the pregnancy turn system either directly or indirectly, a recent survey found. Calling this a severe infringement on women’s right to have control over pregnancy and childbirth, labor advocates are urging the government to address the situation.

On Oct. 10, the Korea Health and Medical Workers’ Union released the results of a working conditions survey of 18,263 union members conducted over two months beginning in Mar. 2014. The study found that some women working for hospitals faced inappropriate working conditions due to a shortage of staff. Some pregnant women were forced to work the night shift, which is forbidden by law.

Of the 1,902 nurses in the survey who had gotten pregnant, 17.4% (365) said they had experienced a pregnancy turn system that determined the order of pregnancy among workers at their hospital. The percentage of women who reported having experienced the system was comparatively higher at public hospitals (20.2%) and private university hospitals (20.7%).

“This kind of pregnancy turn system is usually put in place on the orders of the department head. We found that women who rejected the system or who got pregnant without permission often suffered various disadvantages, such as when the work time table was being drawn up,” a spokesperson for the medical workers’ union said.

In addition, pregnant women at medical facilities worked an average of 9.8 hours a day, and 21.9% of workers said that they had worked the night shift, even though the law explicitly exempts pregnant women from this. 18.7% of women said that they had miscarried or had a stillbirth because of intense work and the working environment at their hospitals.

“Even though there are so many examples of mothers’ rights being infringed at hospitals, the government has not once carried out a complete fact-finding survey. The Ministry of Health and Welfare, Ministry of Gender Equality and Family, and Ministry of Employment and Labor need to realize that just talking about creating measures for the low birthrate and the aging society is not enough. They need to start trying to figure out why females at the workplace are really unable to have children,” said Yoon Eun-jeong, chief of policy for the union.

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]
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