THE Government plans to increase protection for female workers in its comprehensive review on maternity leave. The Labour Department proposes to increase significantly the penalty for employers who sack pregnant workers. It also plans to protect the health of pregnant women at work. The Government also recommends full pay for women during their 10-week maternity leave. The news comes before legislator Lee Cheuk-yan's private member's bill on maternity leave is voted on in the Legislative Council next month. A government briefing paper, obtained by the South China Morning Post, stressed that the nine-point plan would not seriously affect employers. Legislators and union leaders welcomed the proposal. But the plan is expected to face strong opposition from employers when it is discussed by the Labour Advisory Board today. The proposal aims to put local labour law in line with two international treaties, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and International Labour Convention (No 3). The Government also took labour laws of other Asian countries into account when drafting the plan. Under the new proposal, employers will have to pay one month's salary as compensation to a female worker if she is fired during pregnancy. At present, bosses only need to pay seven days' wages. The Government said this amount was so low employers would opt to lay off pregnant women. This benefit will also be extended to all women employees if they have been employed more than one month. At present, it only applies to workers who worked in a firm more than 26 weeks. Another suggestion is to prevent pregnant employees carrying out duties that endanger their health. These includes the handling of heavy materials and working in places where there might be poisonous gas. A pregnant worker can refuse duties on health grounds if she can produce a doctor's certificate. Any employer who fails to comply is committing a criminal offence, with a maximum penalty of $50,000. Working women will be guaranteed 10 weeks' maternity leave, and they will be able to choose days off in accordance with their needs. At present, women are entitled to 10 weeks' leave, four weeks before birth and six weeks after. This holiday cannot be compensated for if the worker gives birth early. In addition, the limit for maternity to cover only two children will also be cancelled. On full pay for maternity leave, the Government said such changes would only increase total salary costs by 0.0024 per cent, according to 1993 figures. Union leader Leung Fu-wah, also a labour representative on the Labour Advisory Board, welcomed the changes. 'But opposition from the employers' delegates to the recommendations is expected in today's meeting.' 'And whether the recommendation can be passed by the board depends very much on how the administration explains it to employers,' he said.