« The struggle for equality is intimately linked to the struggle for social justice in the world for work » (Guy Ryder, ILO Director-General, International Women’s Days 2014)
That sentence perfectly defines why many countries today provide a compensation for young parents to leave the firm they are working in for a determined period : this measure is a clear way to improve living conditions and help people to be able to carry on their professional and personal responsibilities.
There are two main types of leave when you become a parent :
- Maternity leave, created in 1919 through an ILO Convention, aiming to protect female workers during pregnancy, before and after childbirth, called “provision for child welfare and maternity protection ». This convention was improved in 1952 and lately in 2000 (Convention n°183). Thus, ILO today recommends a standard minimum of 14 weeks of maternity leave at a rate of at least two-thirds of previous earnings, paid by social insurance or public funds, but ILO even encourages countries to increase this period to « at least 18 weeks ».
- Paternity leave, for which no ILO recommendation exists. The paternity leave should usually be taken immediately after childbirth and allows fathers to help care for the child and assist the mother.
- The parental leave is a longer period guided by ILO’s recommendation n°191
Maternity and Paternity leave
Maternity leave issues are the following : protective measures for pregnant women or women who have recently given birth, prevention of exposure to health and safety hazards (during and after pregnancy), entitlement to paid maternity leave, maternal and child health care and breastfeeding breaks, protection against discrimination and dismissal in relation to maternity, and a guaranteed right to return to work after maternity leave. Here is an overview of the statutory duration of maternity leave through the world :
In some countries, maternity leave rights sometimes depends on the categories with which employees belong (in many countries, agricultural workers are excluded from these benefits ; this is also the case of part-time workers, for example in Japan and in Canada).
Little by little, paternity leave is developing, to get fathers more involved in their family responsibilities. Today, 70 countries provide paid paternity leave.
There are two possible kinds of cash benefits : An employment-related social insurance (The state is in charge of the compensation) or a compensation provided by the employer. It can also be a mix of the two. When the employer is liable, there is an obvious risk of discrimination (the company avoids having to pay someone who is not in the company). Thus, the ILO recommends a compensation based on a social security system.
Parental leave is a longer period available to either or both parents. They can benefit from it as soon as paternity or maternity rights expires in order to take care of an infant or young child. The only recommendation from the ILO is that such a period should exist. However, duration and payment, for instance, should be determined at a national level. As maternity and paternity leave, parental leave is more common in the European Union, Central and Southern Europe (non EU) and CIS (Commonwealth of Independent States). In general, parental leave is longer than maternity and paternity leave but the compensation is lower.
Young parents as workers : a social perspective
In France, a recent law tends to encourage fathers to benefit from parental leave. The development of such measures are intending to improve gender equality, but that is not really simple : Men often have higher wages than women, and many fathers cannot afford taking a parental leave. That issue is at the core of discussions on that theme. Gender equality at work would mean having the same rights to be able to care about the new born, but it also concerns wages ; one is difficult to have without the other one. Equality at work, when firms do have a social role, is also intimately linked to equality « at home ». Moreover, the highest social risk when maternity leaves are provided is discrimination : Even if it is prohibited, firms can avoid employing young women who could soon be pregnant, because they are recruiting someone to be there.
Still, several countries do not provide a paid parental leave to their employees. Let’s try to understand why.
When speaking about measures for young parents, it is really astonishing to see that the USA still do not provide a paid leave for employees. It is possible for mothers to leave, but they would not be paid during this period. We could think that, in the United States, firms are their « employee’s customers » : this means that the relationship is officially only based on the very basis of a labour contract (Work against Money). It actually is another way of thinking that the one we could have in European Countries, considering that companies have a social role. Those two points of view could be both understandable but very different. When thinking about companies such as customers, not paying for a work which is not done could seem obvious. While thinking that employees spend most of their time in the firm, it seems obvious to allow them to make their familial and professional lives.
Facebook and Apple found another way to solve the problem : They offer their employees… Eggs freezing!
(1) International Labour Organization (Geneva, 2014), « Maternity and Paternity at work : Law and practice across the world » (Accessed 27 October 2014)
(2) M. Huerta et al.: “Fathers’ leave, fathers’ involvement and child development: Are they related? Evidence from Four OECD Countries”, in OECD Social, Employment and Migration Working Papers, No. 140 (OECD Publishing 2013)
(3) International Labour Organization (Geneva, 2010), « Maternity at work: a review of national legislation / International Labour Office, Conditions of Work and Employment Branch.– Second edition » (Accessed 29 October 2014)