Saturday, April 24, 2010

Do-It-Yourself Government Services

Yes, Another Canada FlagImage by Cuppojoe via Flickr

Living in Turkey has made me appreciate Canada's well-established and functioning infrastructure, courtesy of our taxes: public schools with libraries; excellent postal service; pothole-free roads with great signage; garbage and recycling pick up ... I could go on and on; I could write a separate post for each item on my list. But I'll stick to the point: where I might have formerly complained about constant roadworks, my doctor's inability to see me for two weeks, and large class sizes, I've gained perspective. I will never complain again.

My maternity leave recently ended after sixteen weeks. I received full pay the entire time, without ever giving any thought to where the money was coming from. Typically Canadian, I take my social services for granted. All I knew was that my contract stated I had sixteen weeks of leave at full pay; since I was indeed getting what my employer had promised, I gave it no further thought.

As it turns out, my leave was courtesy of the Turkish social security system, the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (SGK). For dramatic effect, though, I'll tell my story first and explain later.

Here's a simplified (note: simplified!!!) recap of what I had to do to go on maternity leave:
  • About two months before my due date, my doctor casually mentioned I'd need to defer my maternity leave, unless I wanted to stop working immediately; Turkish maternity leave is eight weeks before and eight weeks after the birth. Since I had no intention of 'wasting' eight weeks of precious baby time before the baby even arrived, I was understandably alarmed -- if I didn't defer the mat leave before the date it was scheduled to begin, I'd lose it.
  • I collected documents from my employer's accountant, my doctor and the hospital's business office, and shuttled said documents back and forth between the three several times.
  • Three weeks before my due date, in accordance with Turkish law, I stopped working and began my leave; Baby arrived; I spent a glorious thirteen weeks at home with him (he arrived on his due date, so I did indeed use three weeks of my mat leave pre-baby. I continued to receive my monthly salary.
  • Before I returned to work I repeated the document run-around, adding the Sosyal Güvenlik Kurumu (SGK), Turkey's Social Security Service, to my list of stops; my mat leave needed to be officially ''closed.'
By this time, I had learned that my employer was not being left out-of-pocket on my account, and that the SGK was financing my leave. Where I was wrong, was in assuming that while I was receiving monthly deposits in my bank account, my employer would be too -- from the SGK.

Imagine my surprise when my employer told me that upon my return to work, the SGK would deposit, in my name, the previous four months' pay at the PTT, the Turkish postal service which also acts as a bank. I would have to claim that money and bring it to my employer.

Let me say that again: I would have to claim that money and bring it to my employer.

Let me rephrase that: I would have to pick up four months' worth of salary, in cash, and give it to my employer!!!

Four months worth of salary is not a small amount of money. Especially all at once. Especially in cash.

You see, my employer had chosen to continue paying me while I was on leave, one of the many perks of being a foreigner in this country. Normally, employers don't get involved with maternity leave pay. And as I'd already learned, the government doesn't pay out until the maternity leave ends, and then they pay to the patient, not the employer.

Which means that your average Turk receives no pay while on maternity leave. And that the SGK is only logistically sophisticated enough to deposit money in your name at the PTT. (Not to your bank account; not in the form of a cheque to your home address.) And that should an employer choose to pay an employee while on maternity leave, the company is at the mercy of their employee, who may choose to run off with the money instead of facilitating the company's reimbursement.

I love Canada!

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