“The struggle for equality is intimately linked to the struggle for social justice in the world of work.” -Guy Ryder, the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Director-General has said. The ILO has indicated in a new report on Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and Practice Across the World (2014) that 830 million women workers still do not have adequate maternity protection in terms of leave and income security around childbirth. Almost 80 per cent of these women work in Africa and Asia, where groups of workers are excluded from protection in law and practice. This is often for self-employed, domestic, agricultural, casual or temporary workers.
The report indicates that despite overall strides, maternity discrimination persists and groups of workers, often those in female-dominated areas, are excluded entirely from protection in law and practice. Clearly, this raises a number of issues for discussion in the Ghanaian context in relation to, what is maternity protection? Who needs maternity protection? Why is maternity protection important? And how can we improve maternity protection in Ghana? Maternity protection is a set of interventions put in place to protect the livelihood of a woman worker during pregnancy and after childbirth. That is to ensure that the woman’s economic activities do not pose risks to her health and her child. It also ensures that the woman’s reproductive role do not compromise the economic security of her household. Simply put, maternity protection means women workers have the right to maternity leave, cash and medical benefits, health protection at work, non-discrimination, good quality maternal health care, breastfeeding and childcare arrangements at work.
On that note, every working woman (whether in the formal or informal sector) needs maternity protection irrespective of the type of work she does.For this reason, stakeholders at the first National Meeting on Maternity Protection echoed that promoting the rights of women workers through maternity protection must be given a national priority, since what affects women workers also affects the society at large.The Director in charge of Finance & Administration of the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations, Mr Rudolph Kuuzegh, said every worker and employer must endeavour to understand the issues on maternity protection in the working environment.
The Head of Women’s Desk of the Ghana Trades Union Congress, Mrs Teresa Abugah, welcomed ILO’s intervention on maternity protection in Ghana. She added that a maternity protection project presents real opportunities for workers to intensify efforts at achieving decent work for all in Ghana.
She said it was unfortunate that some formal women workers who became pregnant were not given the opportunity to decide when to start their leave to be able to have enough time to breastfeed. Employers have also failed in providing a safe and decent room or facility for women returning from maternity leave to come with their babies and househelp to the workplace, hindering their performance at work.
Need for increased awareness
According to Mr Charles Asante-Bempong, Research & Project Manager of Ghana Employers’ Association, employers acknowledge the relevance of maternity protection and how it benefitted workers. However, there is the need for increased awareness of the issues regarding maternity protection at workplaces, including the informal sector. He further called on the government to expand health facilities, especially in rural communities, to ensure that women had access to health facilities and on time.
Maternity protection and development
This explains why maternity protection is central to an array of development objectives and agenda. For example, maternity protection at work;
• Is a fundamental human right
• Is a prerequisite for gender equality at the workplace
• Helps to improve mother and child health
• Contributes to economic growth and poverty reduction
• Is integral to the decent work agenda
In addition to the above, maternity protection will contribute to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), namely MDG 1 on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger, MDG 3 on promoting gender equality and empowering women, MDG 4 on reducing child mortality, MDG 5 on improving maternal health and MDG 6 on combating HIV & AIDS, malaria and other diseases.
Improving maternity protection in Ghana should include interventions such as developing and implementing a national maternity protection policy, extending maternity protection benefits to women workers in the informal economy, increasing awareness of maternity protection among stakeholders and the general public, providing breastfeeding arrangements and childcare facilities at workplaces and promoting parental leave to include paternity leave for men to support their wives and children.
Source: Daily Graphic