GENEVA (ILO News) – Persistent and significant gaps in care services and policies have left hundreds of millions of workers with family responsibilities without adequate protection and support, yet meeting these needs could create almost 300 million jobs by 2035, according to a new International Labour Organization (ILO) report.
The report, Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender equal world of work, finds that three in ten women of reproductive age, or 649 million women, have inadequate maternity protection that does not meet the key requirements of the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183).
The Convention mandates 14 weeks minimum maternity leave on at least two-thirds of previous earnings, funded by social insurance or public funds. Eighty-two of the 185 countries surveyed for the report did not meet these standards, although “paid maternity leave or maternity protection is a universal human and labour right”, the study says. At the current pace of reform it will take at least 46 years to achieve minimum maternity leave rights in the countries analysed, which means the relevant target of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals will not be met.
More than 1.2 billion men of prime reproductive age live in countries with no entitlement to paternity leave, although it would help to balance the work and family responsibilities of both mothers and fathers, the report says. Where there is paternity leave it remains short – a global average of nine days – creating a large “gender leave gap”. The take-up of paternity leave entitlements is also low; a consequence, the report suggests, of low paternity pay, gender norms and policy design.
The Care at work report offers a global overview of national laws, policies and practices on care, including maternity, paternity, parental, child and long-term care. It highlights how some workers fall outside the scope of these legal protections. These include the self-employed, workers in the informal economy, migrants, and adoptive and LGBTQI+ parents. It also looks at the case for – and potential impact of – greater investment in care.
In only 40 of the countries surveyed did pregnant or nursing women have a right to be protected against dangerous or unhealthy work, in line with ILO standards. Only 53 countries offered a right to paid time off for prenatal medical examinations. Time off, income security and appropriate facilities for breastfeeding were also lacking in many countries.
The need for long-term care services for older persons and those with disabilities has been rising steeply because of increased life expectancy and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the study finds that access to services such as residential care, community day services and in-home care, remains inaccessible to the great majority of those who need them world-wide, although “long-term care services are essential to ensure the right to healthy ageing in dignity”.
We need to re-think the way we provide care policies and services so that they form a continuum of care that provides children with a good start, supports women to stay in employment and prevents families or individuals falling into poverty."Manuela Tomei, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department
The report finds “a strong investment case” for creating a transformative package of care policies, based on universal access, that would create a breakthrough pathway for building a better and more gender equal world of work. Investment in gender equal leave, universal childcare and long-term care services could generate up to 299 million jobs by 2035, it says. Closing these policy gaps would require an annual investment of US$5.4 trillion (equivalent to 4.2 per cent of total annual GDP) by 2035, some of which could be offset by an increase in tax revenue from the additional earnings and employment.
“We need to re-think the way we provide care policies and services so that they form a continuum of care that provides children with a good start, supports women to stay in employment and prevents families or individuals falling into poverty,” said Manuela Tomei, Director, ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department. “Plugging these care gaps should be seen as an investment that not only supports health and livelihoods but fundamental rights, gender equity and greater representation too.”