In its report, Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and practice across the world, the ILO said 66 countries out of 185 countries and territories have committed to at least one of three maternity protection Conventions adopted in 1919, 1952 and in 2000.
These Conventions stipulate the prevention of exposure to health and safety hazards during pregnancy and nursing, entitlement to paid maternity leave, maternal and child health and breastfeeding breaks, and protection against discrimination and dismissal in relation to maternity, as well as a guaranteed right to return to work after maternity leave.
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“While our findings suggest that many countries have adopted the principles of maternity protection and support workers with family responsibilities in their laws, lack of protection in practice remains one of the major challenges for maternity and paternity at work today,” said the report’s co-author, Laura Addati, Maternity Protection and Work-family Specialist from the ILO’s Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch.
Regarding health and safety, 111 out of 160 countries have laws on dangerous or unhealthy work affecting pregnant or nursing women and 78 set out explicit prohibitions against such work.
In terms of maternity leave, no country has cut its length since 1994 and there has been a gradual shift towards leave periods that meet or exceed the 14-week ILO standard.
Positive shift in length of leave
Only two of 185 countries and territories provide no statutory cash benefits during maternity leave and more than 100 countries now finance benefits through social security, reducing employers’ contribution.
When it comes to discrimination protection, all but 20 of 165 countries had explicit prohibitions against discrimination during pregnancy and leave.
Exclusions from protectionDespite overall strides, maternity discrimination persists in all countries, the report said. Around the world, most women, numbering around 830 million workers, still do not have adequate maternity protection in terms of leave and income security around childbirth.
Almost 80 per cent of these women work in Africa and Asia where some groups of workers are excluded from protection in law and in practice. This is often the case for self-employed, migrant, domestic, agricultural, casual or temporary workers, and indigenous and tribal peoples.
These are also the regions where employer liability schemes are more prevalent, informal work is predominant and maternal and child mortality ratios are still very high.
“In order to have gender equality, you must have maternity protection. And if you don’t have equality at home, it will be an uphill battle to have it at work. That’s where paternity benefits, childcare and other work-family policies come in,” said Shauna Olney, Chief of the ILO Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch.
Upswing in paternity supportIn addition to maternity protection legislation, many countries also have measures to support working fathers.
Of 167 countries studied, 78 stipulate a statutory right to paternity leave, which is often paid, underlining the trend of fathers’ greater involvement around childbirth.
Leave provisions for fathers are most common in developed economies, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia. Paternity leave is paid in 70 out of 78 countries where there is entitlement.
Next stepsThe report urges governments to adopt and implement inclusive laws and policies for effective protection, noting that assessing gaps in current frameworks is a first step.
However, the report recommends that employers should not have to bear the full cost of benefits: “Pooling resources through social insurance or public funds and social care services takes the weight off employers and it also promotes non-discrimination at work,” said Olney.
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