The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has said that paid and job protected maternity leave are essential to the life, health, safety and economic fulfillment of women and their children.
It noted that although maternity leave was a universal human and labour right, it remained unfulfilled in some countries.
Therefore, prevention, mitigation and protection measures were needed to ensure the rights of pregnant and nursing women and to guarantee adequate maternal and child healthcare.
“They are part and parcel of a comprehensive legal framework for a human-centred and gender-responsive Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) approach that can benefit all women and men workers, as well as employers,” the ILO report “Care at work: Investing in Care Leave and Services for a more Gender-equal World of Work,” said.
Launched in March 2022, it said the COVID-19 pandemic had exacerbated pre-existing gender inequalities in the labour market and the imbalance between women and men regarding housework and family responsibilities.
Also, the additional care demands on women’s time has forced many to quit paid work altogether, making their re-entry into the labour market even more challenging as economies and societies recover from the pandemic.
“The latter has exposed the urgent need to address the unequal share of unpaid care work between women and men and between families and the state, and has underlined the importance of investing in an ecosystem of transformative care policies. This is to the benefit of workers (both women and men), children, businesses, societies and the planet; since making the right to care and to be cared for a reality for all has overarching implications for the sustainability of humanity,” it said.
The report presents findings from an ILO legal survey of 185 countries and reviews progress made around the world over the past decade, while assessing the persisting and significant legal gaps that translate into a lack of protection and support for millions of workers with family responsibilities across the world.
ILO standards mandate a minimum maternity leave period of 14 weeks and recommend increasing it to at least 18 weeks to ensure an adequate rest and recovery time for the mother.
“The amount of maternity leave cash benefits should be adequate to keep the mother and her child healthy and out of poverty and hardship, especially women in the informal economy. The ILO standards require the amount of cash benefits to be at least two-thirds (67 per cent) of the woman’s previous earnings and recommend increasing it to 100 per cent, when possible,” it said.
The ILO maintains that maternity protection is a public good and a collective responsibility and that its standards require that employers should not be individually liable for the direct cost of maternity leave and these cash benefits shall be provided through compulsory social insurance or public funds or non-contributory social assistance to women who do not qualify for benefits out of social insurance.
The ILO Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183), is a guiding instrument in ensuring that all women have the right to adequate maternity leave.
The reports calls for action to invest in a transformative package of care policies that is central to the broader international agenda on investing in the care economy – a breakthrough pathway for building a better and more gender equal world of work.
“Urgent attention is needed to extend maternity protection rights to those categories of workers often excluded from such provisions, including the self-employed, migrants, adoptive parents, especially workers in the informal economy; while additional efforts are needed to eliminate discrimination based on maternity and family responsibility,” it added.