Reports that a company in north-east China is making female staff “apply” to have children have prompted lively debate on social media.

Women at a business in Changchun city, Jilin Province, are now required to tell bosses a year in advance that they plan on having a baby, according to the state-run New Culture newspaper. The report, which has been widely shared in official nationwide media, says managers at the unnamed firm hope that making a “timetable” for maternity leave will prevent short-staffing. It does not say whether bosses can refuse requests.

The company’s HR director says China’s new two-child policy has left them “helpless” in the face of a baby boom. “Some employees said that they wanted to take advantage this policy and have another child,” Ms Zheng tells the paper. “We have to consider the overall interests of the enterprise.” The company’s boss adds that hiring staff to cover maternity leave has proved “impossible” because of the economic downturn, leaving colleagues overstretched.

Thousands of social media users have weighed in with their thoughts on the Sina Weibo microblogging site. One woman says there are “no benefits” to the company’s plan, and that it “only continues to hamper female employment”. That’s a view shared by some men, with one writing: “We do not want to force employers to become more reluctant to hire female employees.”

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