At the ILO:

Maternity protection at the workplace

An ethnic-Albanian woman feeds her child
Damir Sagolj/Reuters

The International Labour Organization is currently undergoing a global process of revision of the Maternity Protection Convention, (1953) and Recommendations (1952).

In June of 1998 it polled its member states to determine where the proposed revisions should be headed and the level of member support for the revisions. The results of this questionnaire have just been published.

Maternity leave: though the same period as in Convention 103, the proposed revision uses the phrase-not less than -- indicating that members can provide for a longer period.

Cash benefits: there was general agreement that cash payments should be made but who is responsible was not specified.

Employment protection: employment protection and non-discrimination are applicable not only during maternity leave but also against dismissal during pregnancy and the period following the return to work.

Parental leave: is also dealt with. However the revisions explicitly focus on women during pregnancy recovery, on child bearing and not on child rearing.

Some interesting comments on selected questions on the Convention

Should there be a revised Convention?

Affirmative: 94, Negative: 3, Other: 4.

Responses from developed countries were in favour of a standard setting Convention but in descending scale of commitment.

Sweden strongly supported the revision and a more adequate response to the needs of working parents. Suggested that one part of the Convention deal with maternity leave and a part two with paternal leave.

Finland and Denmark support the removal of discrimination against women due to their reproductive function.

Portugal was the only developed country to overtly mention the need to protect breastfeeding mothers.

Australia, New Zealand, Belgium, Japan -- all opted for more flexible, less prescriptive, more easy to apply standards.

The UK and the US mentioned the need to guarantee flexibility, competitiveness and employability. The US stressed that women themselves should choose what maternity protection and benefits they wanted and that government was not responsible for compulsory benefits.

Developing countries in general expressed concern for counties with poor social security systems, low levels of economic development, concern for employment creation or the development of small and intermediate sized enterprises. Thus Korea, Malaysia, the Philippines, South Africa, Egypt and Peru were for limited standards.

India and Pakistan sought to reduce the unequal treatment of women.

Employers in general saw no relevance of the Convention or were for avoiding greater burdens for enterprises or were unwilling to share the cost of maternity leave. Some saw provisions as detrimental to the employment of women.

Workers were almost universal in support of the promotion of equality of opportunity between men and women and sought higher standards than the current Convention 103.

For further information see the ILO website (or in French or Spanish) at:

Thanks to Marybeth Morsink and Alison Linnecar of IBFAN Geneva for their analysis.


How did Canada respond?

Canada supported maternity leave for 14 weeks, cash and medical benefits during maternity leave, favoured raising benefits to the full amount of women's previous earnings and that benefits be paid for by social security and employer contributions. Canada also supported nursing breaks according to national law and practice and that nursing breaks be remunerated as time spent at work.

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