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close this bookMaternity Protection at Work: Revision of the Maternity Protection Convention (ILO, 1997, 122 p.)
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View the documentPreface
close this folder1. Maternity protection at work
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close this folder2. Scope
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close this folder3. Maternity leave
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close this folder4. Employment protection
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close this folder5. Cash and medical benefits
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close this folder6. Health protection of mother and child
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close this folder7. Beyond childbirth: Parental, paternity and adoption leave
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View the document8. Looking to the future
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No one will deny the particular physiological demands associated with pregnancy and confinement. As an indispensable means of protecting the health of any woman wage-earner and her child, the mother’s right to a period of rest when a child is born, together with a guarantee of being able to resume work after the break with adequate means of supporting herself and her family, is the core element of any instrument seeking to reconcile women’s procreative role with the demands of paid employment. The importance of this right, which is enshrined in the Maternity Protection Convention (Revised), 1952 (No. 103),1 is emphasized by the fact that the Convention in question does not make it subject to a length of service requirement. The only condition specified by Convention No. 103, and by the Maternity Protection Convention, 1919 (No. 3), before it, is the presentation of a medical certificate stating the presumed confinement date. The obligation to inform the employer is also the only condition envisaged at European level by Council Directive 92/85 of the European Commission on the introduction of measures to encourage improvements in the safety and health at work of pregnant workers and workers who have recently given birth or are breast-feeding, ensuring that a woman wage-earner can exercise her right to maternity leave without the risk of losing her job and can benefit from other protective measures.2

The present chapter will address the topic of maternity leave as so defined, that is to say, leave whose purpose is to safeguard the health of a woman employee and that of her child during the perinatal period, whether immediately before or after the birth. Other types of leave linked to the birth or arrival in a family of a young child, natural or adopted, and aimed at promoting the upbringing of a child and reconciling family and work responsibilities are dealt with in chapter 7. Nevertheless, it is sometimes difficult to draw a distinction between these types of leave and maternity leave. The distinction tends to become blurred, especially where parental leave is not granted in addition to maternity leave but takes the place of it.

Leave entitlement

The analysis made by the ILO of different national legislations and practices based on information available to it at the time of drafting the present report shows that entitlement to maternity leave as defined above appears to be almost universally recognized and countries where women wage-earners do not have such an entitlement are rare. The entitlement may be expressly set out in national laws and elaborated or underpinned by collective agreements or arbitration awards applicable to the principle sectors, enterprises or different categories of women wage-earners. Alternatively, it may result from the application of provisions governing the period during which a woman may receive maternity benefits and the amount of such benefits (Algeria). It is worth noting that maternity leave is often covered by collective agreements. For example, in Singapore, 92 per cent of collective agreements in force as of 31 December 1996 included provisions relating to maternity leave.3

It should be emphasized that great progress has been made towards recognizing the need of women wage-earners to take time off from work at the time of a birth. In the United States, for example, where any entitlement to maternity leave once depended on works agreements and on legislation or regulations passed by individual States, a woman’s entitlement to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for family or medical reasons, with a guarantee of reinstatement in the workplace, has been recognized at federal level since 1993 by the Family and Medical Leave Act. Maternity, together with health and family responsibilities, are expressly cited as possible reasons for leave. In Switzerland, maternity protection is guaranteed by the Constitution and governed by various uncoordinated statutes. A new draft law on maternity insurance was approved at the end of June 1997 and provides for the introduction of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave.4 For the time being, this only amounts to a period during which the worker may not be employed together with a limited obligation to continue paying her wages during that period.

In many cases, legislation requires only that a medical certificate be produced as a condition for taking maternity leave, in accordance with Convention No. 103. This is the case, for example, in Bahrein, Belgium, Botswana, Colombia, Fiji, France, Haiti, Honduras, Iceland, Iraq, Italy, Lebanon, Luxembourg, Paraguay, Portugal, Solomon Islands and the Syrian Arab Republic.

Of course, the obligation to notify an employer does not imply that there are no other legal or practical formalities before a woman can take maternity leave. The purpose of such formalities is, among other things, to allow employers to make any necessary arrangements to cope with the worker’s future absence from the workplace and to prevent or limit any disruption to the work of the enterprise by finding a replacement or by redistributing the worker’s tasks among the remaining workforce. Notification procedures vary in terms of strictness, depending on whether notification is the responsibility of the worker herself or whether or not it involves the issuing of a medical certificate by a doctor or other competent medical authority. In Germany, for example, the employer must be notified of the pregnancy and the presumed date of confinement as soon as possible. In Australia, federal legislation on maternity leave and parental leave stipulates that the woman must inform her employer that she is pregnant and will be taking leave at least ten weeks before that leave and must formally apply for leave at least four weeks before that date, stating when the period of leave will start and finish. In Austria, a worker is required to inform her employer of her pregnancy and of the likely date of the birth as soon as she herself knows. She is also required to tell the employer of the date on which prenatal leave is to start four weeks before that date.

In Ireland and the United Kingdom, notification follows a fairly strict procedure. Where this is ignored, a woman may lose the protection of the courts in the event of a dispute. However, in Ireland a recent ruling (in the case Gray v. Smith) has recognized that, if the employer provides no guidance on the regulations governing maternity, a woman employee who fails to follow the established procedure will not be considered at fault. Similarly, failure to notify the employer does not necessarily have legal consequences in countries such as France, where a woman enjoys protection by the mere fact that she is pregnant and that the employer has learned of it regardless of the means. The same applies in Denmark, Italy and Greece. In Finland, in order to enjoy full protection, a woman is required to inform her employer only if she wishes to take leave more than 30 days before the presumed date of confinement.5

In some countries, the entitlement to leave is still subject to conditions or restrictions which are not envisaged by Convention No. 103. For example, leave entitlement may depend on the number of children already in the family, the frequency of births, or both, length of service or working hours. Other restrictions may apply where application of the regulations is limited to enterprises of a certain size, as we saw in the previous chapter.

The first category of such limits is found to apply in certain countries of Africa, the English-speaking Antilles and Asia, such as Bahamas, Barbados, Egypt, Grenada, Jamaica, Malaysia and Nepal. In Nepal, a woman employee’s maternity leave entitlement is limited to two confinements. In Barbados, Grenada, Egypt, Jamaica and Zimbabwe, women are entitled to three such periods of maternity leave. In the Bahamas and in the United Republic of Tanzania, maternity leave may only be taken once every three years. Such limits, which contravene Convention No. 103, may be based on demographic arguments. Such arguments may also be invoked, conversely, by certain industrialized countries which have greater resources and developed social security systems, but also ageing populations and birth and fertility rates too low to allow social regeneration, to justify longer periods of maternity leave or other benefits for mothers with a certain number of children. This is the case in France, for example, for the third and subsequent children and in Poland for the second and subsequent children.

More commonly, although also limited, is the requirement for a minimum length of service with the same employer as a condition of maternity leave. This minimum length of service is three months in Switzerland, six months in the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Syrian Arab Republic (in agriculture) and in Somalia (unless there has been a justified break from work), and six months during the year preceding the birth in Egypt and the Philippines. The period is 90 days during the six preceding months in Papua New Guinea (or 180 days during the preceding 12 months), 150 days in Belize, one year in Australia, Bahamas, Jamaica, Mauritius, Namibia, New Zealand and United Arab Emirates, 18 months in Grenada, and two years in Gambia and Zambia.

The trend towards extending protection to an ever growing number of women wage-earners, if not all of them, has continued in recent years. In the United Kingdom, legislation used to make it a condition for paid maternity leave with guaranteed reinstatement at work that a woman working for less than 16 hours per week should have worked for at least two years for her employer, and at least five years in the case of women working between eight and 16 hours per week. This effectively penalized a large proportion of women wage-earners, given that women account for a particularly large proportion of part-time workers. These conditions were abolished in 1994. Since then, any woman wage-earner in the United Kingdom has been entitled to maternity leave irrespective of her length of service with her employer. In New Zealand, although limits of this type still exist, the minimum length of service and the number of hours worked per week needed to qualify for maternity leave have been reduced from 18 months to one year and from 15 to ten hours respectively. Such limits also contravene the Part-Time Work Convention, 1994 (No. 175), adopted in 1994 by the International Labour Conference, which mentions maternity protection as one of the areas in which part-time workers should enjoy the same conditions as full-time workers in a comparable situation.

Length of leave

Convention No. 103 provides for a period of maternity leave of at least 12 weeks, six of which must be taken following the confinement. This effectively prohibits any resumption of work before a period of six weeks has elapsed following the birth of the child, although it allows each ratifying member State to decide how the remaining leave must or may be taken.

The countries investigated determine the length of maternity leave essentially in one of two ways: either by specifying its total length, or by specifying the prenatal and postnatal periods separately. With the first method, it is also possible to specify how all or part of the leave is allocated before and after the birth.

In many countries, a period of leave is compulsory, especially after a birth, and that period is often up to six weeks. However, both the way the total leave is allocated before and after the birth and the nature of that leave vary from one country to another. It would appear that national legislation and practice, which reflect developments in a society’s concepts and policies with regard to the employment of women and the most insistent expectations of women themselves regarding their place at work and in society, are gradually giving greater weight to individual preferences and circumstances.

“Standard” or basic maternity leave

As will be seen in the chapter dealing with the financing of leave through social security or compulsory insurance schemes, women do not necessarily have any right to financial compensation. Nor does the length of the leave always correspond to the period during which cash benefits are payable by the social security or insurance scheme.

Table 1 shows the standard, minimum or basic maternity leave entitlements in 152 countries. It is based essentially on provisions generally applied in the private sector. In some countries, that period varies from sector to sector. It may be longer, or linked to greater security of employment, for example in the civil service (Egypt, Iceland, Jordan and Uruguay), or to better financial benefits under particular schemes, or to additional guarantees regarding improved conditions of employment achieved through collective bargaining or employment contracts. Variations also occur according to occupation and occupational category. To simplify analysis and comparison, the table groups available data by length of leave, differentiating between cases where leave is less than the standard 12 weeks specified by Convention No. 103, cases where that standard has been achieved and cases where it is exceeded.




Less than 12 weeks

Tunisia (30 days); Lebanon, Qatar (40 days); Papua New Guinea (6 weeks *); Bahrein, United Arab Emirates (45 days); Egypt, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya (50 days); Nepal (52 days); Bahamas, Singapore, Sudan, Switzerland, Uganda (8 weeks); Bolivia, Eritrea, Guinea-Bissau, Iceland, Iraq, Kenya, Republic of Korea, Malaysia, Mozambique, Philippines, Yemen (60 days or two months); Honduras, Jordan, Kuwait, Sao Tome and Principe, Saudi Arabia (70 days or ten weeks); Syrian Arab Republic (75 days).

12 weeks

Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Colombia, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Equatorial Guinea, Fiji, Gambia, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, India, Israel, Jamaica, Lesotho, Mauritius, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Namibia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, South Africa, Sri Lanka, Swaziland, United Republic of Tanzania, Turkey, United States, Uruguay, Zambia.

13 weeks

Afghanistan, Angola, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Cambodia, Chad, China, Ethiopia, Grenada, Guyana, Indonesia, Islamic Republic of Iran, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Peru, Saint Lucia, Trinidad and Tobago, Zimbabwe.

14 weeks

Algeria, Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Comoros. Democratic Republic of the Congo, Cd’Ivoire, Djibouti, Gabon, Germany, Guinea, Ireland, Japan, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, New Zealand, Panama, Portugal, Senegal, Seychelles, Somalia, Sweden, Togo, United Kingdom.

15 weeks

Mongolia (101 days): Belgium, Congo, Finland, Slovenia.

16 weeks

Austria, Cyprus, Costa Rica, France, Greece, Luxembourg. Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain.

17 weeks or more

Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada (17 weeks); Viet Nam (4-7 months); Azerbaijan, Belarus, Chile, Cuba, Denmark, Estonia, Ukraine, Venezuela (18 weeks); Russian Federation (20 weeks); Italy (5 months); Hungary (24 weeks); Croatia (6 months and 4 weeks); Czech Republic (28 weeks); Norway (38-48 weeks); Australia (52 weeks).

* Plus prenatal leave, where required.

Sources: National legislation, information provided to the ILO in 1997 in reply to a request for information; and Conditions of work digest: Maternity and work. Vol. 13. 1994.

It should be emphasized that neither the practical implementation of the leave arrangements nor the nature of the leave (minimum or compulsory) are neutral factors. They can profoundly affect a woman’s actual leave entitlement. There is no real comparison between cases where maternity leave is optional, as it is in the United States, cases where the total leave entitlement corresponds to a minimum level, and cases where part of the leave or indeed all of it is compulsory (Panama). With this proviso, it can be seen from table 1 that only in 31 countries, i.e. one country in five, is the statutory leave entitlement less than 12 weeks. In more than half the countries (119) the statutory entitlement is greater than that period and in 62 countries, i.e. 41 per cent of the total, it is at least 14 weeks, the period specified by the Maternity Protection Recommendation, 1952 (No. 95), (which also corresponds to the minimum leave entitlement stipulated by the European Union Directive mentioned earlier).

It should also be noted that in practice, collective bargaining, whose importance has already been noted, can often increase the leave entitlement. This is the case in Mexico, for example, where the statutory leave entitlement is 12 weeks (84 days). In two banks (Banco Inverlat and Banco Union SA) and in the Northern Power and Electricity Company, collective agreements give female employees a leave entitlement of 90 days and 110 days respectively. In Spain, under the terms of an agreement covering the 12,000 teaching staff in private schools in the Basque region, women are entitled to 17 weeks maternity leave, while under another agreement covering the 18,000 public school teachers in the same region women have 18 weeks leave, these periods being respectively one week and two weeks longer than the statutory entitlement. In Kenya, women employed in the construction industry are entitled to 12 weeks maternity leave, which is almost one month more than the statutory entitlement.6 In the United Kingdom, an inquiry in 1995 into provisions relating to maternity based on 240 different establishments showed that 85 per cent of these establishments had maternity leave arrangements more generous than the statutory provisions.7 In Switzerland, the length of maternity leave specified in collective agreements varies according to length of service, in accordance with the relevant legislation, and is on average 7.1 weeks during the first year of service, 9.6 weeks during the second, 10.7 during the third and fourth years, 14.6 during the fifth to ninth years and so on.8 By contrast, the length of paid maternity leave is legally fixed at three weeks during the first year of service and to “a longer period determined in an equitable manner” thereafter.9

The trend towards extending maternity leave noted in 1965 by the Committee of Experts on the Application of Conventions and Recommendations10 and in 1982 by the Governing Body11 has continued. For example, in 1995 the statutory entitlement was increased from 14 to 15 weeks in Belgium and from 90 days to 14 weeks in Portugal. In Mozambique, the Labour Advisory Board recently discussed the possibility of increasing the current maternity leave allowance of 60 days to 90 days. Policies aimed at improving maternity protection in various countries over the past 15 years have typically sought to increase maternity leave entitlements, although the trend seems unlikely to continue except for specific situations and cases where an increase over the basic or minimum maternity leave can be justified.12 For this there are two major interrelated reasons.

The first follows from the aim, recognized at both international and national levels, of achieving real equality between men and women in the workplace and in society. This is all the more important given the proportion of the active working population in many countries made up of women of child-bearing age, particularly - although not exclusively - in the industrialized countries. That proportion has grown constantly during recent decades. In France, more than half of all births recorded in 1977 were to women wage-earners (380,000 out of 750,000).13 In Switzerland, it is estimated that of about 81,000 recorded births each year, 54,000 are to mothers in paid employment.14 Between 1985 and 1993, the employment of women with children under ten years of age increased more rapidly than the employment of women in general in all the countries of the European Union except Denmark.15 These few figures also explain why business and political leaders concerned by the problem of an ageing population are increasingly looking at ways of reconciling work and the family responsibilities associated with motherhood.16 They highlight the widely acknowledged need for measures which recognize the biological role of women in conceiving and giving birth to children to prevent that role from becoming a source of discrimination against them in matters of employment. Nevertheless, that unalterable biological difference between men and women, which is the basis of maternity leave and the associated employment protection measures for pregnant workers and those who have just had a child, must not be used to justify excessively protective measures which might act against women’s interests. The danger of this happening is greater if the period of maternity leave is very long and thus compounds the organizational problems created by a worker’s absence, particularly in small enterprises where many women wage-earners are employed. The biological role of women in procreation must be protected, but we must steer clear of overprotection with its potentially adverse consequences. For this reason, the constraints associated with that biological role, which affects only a limited period of a woman’s working life, should be differentiated from the tasks of raising and caring for children, which can be shared by men and women17 and for which parental leave, discussed in a later chapter, has been instituted.

The second reason is connected with the availability of child-care facilities. Maternity leave should not be a substitute for such services. Care must be taken not to compensate for a lack of child-care facilities by increasing maternity leave beyond reasonable limits to the detriment of a woman’s chances of resuming an active life after a period of maternity leave and playing an effective part in an enterprise and in the economy generally.

Allocation and nature of leave before and after the birth

The proportions of the leave taken before and after the birth and their respective minimum or compulsory lengths determine both the actual leave period, in particular in the event of a discrepancy between the expected and actual dates of confinement, and the freedom available to a woman in arranging her maternity leave. Table 2 draws together the general statutory provisions applicable in various countries. The length of the prenatal portion of leave is established with reference to the presumed date of confinement. Normally, if confinement starts earlier than expected and legislation specifies the minimum total maternity leave allowance, the postnatal portion of the leave is extended by a period equivalent to the interval elapsing between the expected and actual dates of confinement.

As can be seen from table 2, a compulsory period of postnatal leave is stipulated by legislation in many countries, in accordance with Convention No. 103. The length of this leave is 6 weeks in Australia (Victoria), Bangladesh, Belize, Botswana, Burundi, Canada (Alberta and British Columbia), Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji (public officials), France, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Jordan, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritania, Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Solomon Islands, Spain, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Turkey and Uruguay. The compulsory period of postnatal leave is more than six weeks in some countries where the total maternity leave period exceeds (sometimes substantially) 12 weeks. This is the case in Cyprus (seven weeks); Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chad, Gabon, Germany, Guinea, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, and South Africa (eight weeks); and Viet Nam (two months). In Switzerland, the prohibition of employment, which applies only to the postnatal period, is also eight weeks. The period is ten weeks in Ecuador, 12 weeks in Chile and three months in Costa Rica. On the other hand, the compulsory period of postnatal leave in some countries is less than six weeks: two weeks in Denmark and the United Kingdom, four weeks in Bahamas, Mali, Singapore, Sri Lanka and Uganda, and 30 days in Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Sao Tome and Principe.




Mandatory prenatal leave:

1 month or less

Belgium, Fiji (7 days); Cyprus, Ecuador, France. Madagascar, Mauritania, Seychelles, Zimbabwe (2 weeks); Mali (3 weeks); Brazil, Croatia, Honduras, Nicaragua, Senegal, Slovenia, South Africa (4 weeks): Costa Rica (1 month).

6 weeks or more

Australia,1 Chile. Dominican Republic, Germany. Guinea, Haiti, Panama. Turkey, Venezuela (6 weeks): Argentina (45 days); Austria (8 weeks); Italy (2 months).

Mandatory postnatal leave:

Less than 6 weeks

Denmark, United Kingdom (2 weeks); Mali, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Uganda (4 weeks); Guinea-Bissau, Lebanon, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Sao Tome and Principe (30 days); Egypt, Syrian Arab Republic (40 days).

6 weeks

Australia,2 Bangladesh. Belize, Botswana, Burundi. Canada,3 Central African Republic, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Dominica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Fiji,4 France, Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, India, Jordan, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritania. Mauritius, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Norway, Pakistan, Paraguay, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles. Solomon Islands, Spain, United Republic of Tanzania, Togo, Turkey, Uruguay.

6 weeks or more

Angola, Argentina, Peru (45 days); Cyprus (7 weeks); Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chad, Gabon, Germany, Guinea, Japan, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Nicaragua, Panama, South Africa, Switzerland (8 weeks); Portugal, Viet Nam (2 months): Ecuador (10 weeks); Chile, Venezuela (12 weeks): Costa Rica, Italy (3 months); Croatia (6 months).

1 For federal public servants and in the states of South Australia and Western Australia. 2 In the state of Victoria. 3 In the provinces of Alberta and British Columbia. 4 For public servants.

A period of prenatal leave is also compulsory in certain countries. The purpose of this is to allow a woman to rest and avoid working until the last minute, even if her own preference is for postnatal leave as a way of maximizing her period of rest after the birth. The statutory length of such leave varies from one country to another: one week in Belgium and Fiji, two weeks in Cyprus, Ecuador, France, Madagascar, Mauritania, Seychelles and Zimbabwe, three weeks in Mali, four weeks in Brazil, Honduras, Senegal, Slovenia and South Africa, one month in Costa Rica, six weeks in Australia (public servants in Western Australia and South Australia), Chile, Dominican Republic, Germany, Guinea, Haiti, Panama, Turkey and Venezuela. The statutory prenatal leave may be increased by negotiations between the social partners. For example, in Denmark in the public sector, women can take leave from eight weeks before the confinement, rather than the statutory four weeks.18

Two things are clear from these examples. One is that compulsory prenatal leave is far less common than compulsory postnatal leave. The second is that, where there is an entitlement to prenatal leave, its length is limited and in any event substantially less than that of compulsory postnatal leave. This corresponds to what women themselves expect but does not necessarily address the concerns of medical experts to prevent premature births19 which can cause serious handicaps and thus create a heavy financial burden for the mother and family, for health care schemes and for society as a whole. The question is thus how to satisfy medical requirements without ignoring women’s own wishes and preferences which are increasingly reflected in national legislation and practice allowing women to choose, at least within certain limits, how to arrange their prenatal and postnatal leave. Thus in Peru, the possibility of carrying over all or part of the prenatal leave and using it after the confinement is subject to two conditions: the worker must notify her employer of her intention and must provide a medical certificate stating that she is in a fit condition to do so. Along the same general lines but in a different way, the law governing maternity in New Zealand establishes the standard maximum prenatal leave of six weeks and leaves it to the employee and the employer together to decide when the leave period should begin, although the employer has the right to decide that the leave should start more than six weeks before the expected date of confinement if the woman is unable to do her work without risk to herself or others. Directive 92/85/EEC does no more than stipulate a compulsory leave period of two weeks which may be allocated before and/or after confinement, giving each country considerable freedom to determine the way the leave is allocated. Specifying a minimum period of leave also helps to ensure that various pressures relating to the woman’s financial situation, her position in the company or the state of the enterprise itself do not adversely affect her health.

Extension of leave

Under the terms of Convention No. 103, maternity leave must be extended in either of two cases: when confinement begins after the expected date, in which case the prenatal portion of the leave must be extended up until the actual date of confinement without any reduction in the compulsory postnatal leave; and in the event of illness arising as a result of the pregnancy or confinement, the maximum length of the leave then being determined by the competent authority.

Specific provisions for these two types of extension of maternity leave exist in a number of countries. The first type of extension is found in Angola, Barbados, Belgium, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chile, Cuba, Ethiopia, Germany, Greece, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Lesotho, Luxembourg, Mali, Malta, Mongolia, Nicaragua, Panama, Peru, Romania, Solomon Islands, Somalia, Swaziland, Venezuela and Zimbabwe. The length of the extension depends on the period elapsing between the presumed and actual (delayed) dates of confinement. On the other hand, extension of leave for reasons of illness is more common (see table 3). The length of such an extension varies from two weeks (most commonly) to a possible three months or even longer and is not necessarily specified or limited, given the difficulty of predicting the nature of possible complications and the period of rest required. The distinction between leave in the event of illness resulting from pregnancy or confinement and sick leave also appears to be blurred. In a number of countries (Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Eritrea, Malta, Philippines, Sudan and Zambia), maternity leave is extended as sick leave.

Table 3 also shows the information available on extensions of maternity leave provided for by the national legislation of various countries under other circumstances, for example in cases of multiple births. Provision is sometimes made for other types of extension, for example if the mother is still nursing, if the working conditions are prejudicial to the health of the mother or child (if, for example, the mother cannot be transferred to other duties compatible with her condition), or if the child is ill (six months in Argentina if the child is afflicted with Down’s syndrome). In New Zealand, in the absence of any specific provision to the contrary, special leave of ten days may be taken by the expectant mother during the period before the birth and the start of actual maternity leave.


Complications or illness:

Less than 1 month

Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Botswana (further extension possible), Burkina Paso, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Cd’Ivoire, Djibouti, Estonia, Gabon, Ghana, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mali, Mauritania, Mongolia, Morocco, Niger, Philippines, Russian Federation, Senegal, Togo, Tunisia, Ukraine.

1 to 3 months

Argentina, Bahamas, Barbados, Brazil, Cameroon, Costa Rica, Fiji, France, Grenada, Guatemala, Guinea, Guyana, Honduras, India, Indonesia, Israel, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malta, Papua New Guinea, Portugal, Swaziland, Thailand (unpaid), Uganda (unpaid), United Kingdom.

More than 3 months

Ecuador (unpaid), Iraq, Jamaica (further 3 weeks possible), Kuwait (unpaid), Netherlands, Syrian Arab Republic (including maternity leave), United Arab Emirates (unpaid).

As long as necessary

Chile, El Salvador, Honduras (unpaid), Mexico, Solomon Islands, Venezuela.

Unspecified period

Antigua and Barbuda, Belize, Benin, Bolivia, Dominican Republic (unpaid), Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Italy, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Philippines, Seychelles, Sudan, Zambia, Zimbabwe (unpaid).

Multiple births:

Less than 1 month

Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Belarus, China, Estonia, Georgia, Ghana, Guinea, Islamic Republic of Iran, Israel, Norway,* Spain, Ukraine, Yemen.

1 to 2 months

Armenia, Austria, Cuba, Germany, Iceland,* Japan, Luxembourg, Mongolia, Russian Federation, Viet Nam.*

More than 2 months

Czech Republic, Finland,* France, Iraq, Poland, Sweden.*

* Per additional child.

Special cases

In several countries, legislation includes provisions for dealing with particular problems and situations, such as the hospitalization or death of a newborn baby or its mother following the birth.

In the following countries, maternity leave can be interrupted or deferred, allowing the mother to use it when the child leaves hospital: Belgium (if the child has been in hospital for more than eight weeks after its birth), Guinea-Bissau, Hungary, Israel, Poland, Portugal and Sao Tome and Principe. In addition, special provisions sometimes apply if the child dies after birth. This is the case in Angola, where maternity leave is terminated by the death of a newborn baby before the normal end of the leave period and the worker is required to resume work six days after the death if it occurs after the compulsory postnatal leave period of 45 days. Maternity leave may also be reduced if the child is stillborn or dies: this is the case in Bulgaria, Grenada (if the death occurs during the month following the birth), Haiti, Honduras, Hungary, Israel (if the woman agrees) and Portugal.

An employed father may take any unused maternity leave if the mother is hospitalized or dies following childbirth, as in Belgium, Bulgaria, Chile, Croatia, France, Ireland, Italy, Portugal, Russian Federation, Slovenia and Spain. In Portugal, a father may use the maternity leave, except for the mandatory two weeks of postnatal leave, if both parents agree.

The preceding analysis confirms the importance of maternity leave. Seen as the most essential means of safeguarding the health of the mother, unborn child and newborn baby, it remains the key element in the protection of women who continue to work during pregnancy. This role is universally acknowledged and firmly established as can be seen from the fact that all the countries examined here have adopted statutory provisions for maternity leave, even those countries where other types of leave and conditions of employment are normally negotiated by the social partners. The partners still have a very important part to play in increasing maternity leave entitlement, especially where it is relatively short, and even more in increasing women’s disposable income during maternity leave.

Over the years, major changes have taken place in many countries reflecting changes in the role and image of women at work and in society and in women’s own expectations. Whatever reservations may have been expressed during the debates which have shaken up the world of employment over the past two decades on ways of guaranteeing real equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women and protective measures applicable exclusively to women, the role of maternity leave has become at once clearer and more complex.

What has become clearer is the importance of maternity leave in enabling women to reconcile their unique biological role and their wage-earning activity. After all, how, given that unique role, could one speak of equality between men and women without guaranteeing their right to interrupt their paid work for the birth of a child and return to work afterwards?

The greater complexity becomes apparent from the measures adopted to ensure that family responsibilities, as opposed to the physiological demands associated with the birth or adoption of a child, are not borne exclusively by women or at least are made less onerous than at present. The complexity is also evident from the links between these measures. That is why maternity leave, or the portion of parental leave provided for in various countries following the birth and reserved in some cases for the mother, should not exceed certain limits. This requires social infrastructures in the form of child-care facilities while parents are at work. Nevertheless, the complexity of the different provisions which address these concerns is sometimes more apparent than real and another factor is gradually becoming clearer, namely, greater flexibility based on the needs and preferences both of the women wage-earners and employers.