Better maternity leave and childcare services 'could generate 299 million jobs by 2035'

International Labour Organisation says 82 of 185 countries analysed did not have 14 weeks' minimum maternity leave

The provision of adequate maternity leave and childcare services could generate nearly 300 million jobs by 2035, a UN agency said.

Care at work: Investing in care leave and services for a more gender-equal world of work, a report published by the International Labour Organisation looks at national laws, policies and practices on care, including maternity, paternity, parental, child and long-term care around the world.

Its authors found persistent and significant gaps in care services and policies had left hundreds of millions of workers with family responsibilities without adequate protection and support.

We need to rethink the way we provide care policies and services that supports women to stay in employment
Manuela Tomei of International Labour Organisation

But if these needs were to be protected, 299 million jobs could be added to the global economy by 2035.

The report said three in 10 women of reproductive age, or 649 million women, do not have access to adequate maternity protection that meets the key requirements of the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183).

The convention mandates 14 weeks' minimum maternity leave on at least two-thirds of previous earnings, funded by social insurance or public funds.

Eighty-two of the 185 countries surveyed for the report did not meet these standards, although “paid maternity leave or maternity protection is a universal human and labour right”, the study said.

At the current pace of reform, the organisation said it would take at least 46 years to achieve minimum maternity leave rights in the countries analysed.

This would mean the relevant target of the 2030 UN Sustainable Development Goals would not be met.

More than 1.2 billion men of prime reproductive age live in countries with no entitlement to paternity leave, although it would help to balance the work and family responsibilities of both mothers and fathers, the report said.

Close up of newborn baby's face sleeping on father's shoulder at home. Getty Images

Where there is paternity leave, it remains short — a global average of nine days — creating a large “gender leave gap”.

The take-up of paternity leave entitlements is also low; a consequence of low paternity pay, gender norms and policy design.

The report also highlighted how some workers fell outside the scope of legal protections.

These included the self-employed, workers in the informal economy, migrants, and adoptive parents. The authors also looked at the case for — and potential impact of — greater investment in care.

In only 40 of the countries surveyed did pregnant or nursing women have a right to be protected against dangerous or unhealthy work, in line with ILO standards.

Only 53 countries offered a right to paid time off for prenatal medical examinations. Time off, income security and appropriate facilities for breastfeeding were also lacking in many countries.

The need for long-term care services for older and disabled people has been rising steeply because of increased life expectancy and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.

However, the study found that access to services such as residential care, community day services and in-home care remains inaccessible to the great majority of those who need them worldwide, although “long-term care services are essential to ensure the right to healthy ageing in dignity”.

The report said there is “a strong investment case” for gender-equal leave, universal childcare and long-term care services.

Closing these policy gaps would require an annual investment of $5.4 trillion, equivalent to 4.2 per cent of total annual GDP, by 2035. Some of this figure could be offset by an increase in tax revenue from the additional earnings and employment.

“We need to rethink the way we provide care policies and services so that they form a continuum of care that provides children with a good start, supports women to stay in employment and prevents families or individuals from falling into poverty,” said Manuela Tomei, director of the ILO Conditions of Work and Equality Department.

“Plugging these care gaps should be seen as an investment that not only supports health and livelihoods but fundamental rights, gender equity and greater representation too.”

Updated: March 07, 2022, 7:05 AM