Respect Women’s Right to Maternity Leave – Delegates Urge Employers, at the National Conference on the ESCRs

Access to work and enjoyment of the right to maternity leave were key issues of concern that dominated sessional deliberations on the topic: “Women’s access to work and the rights to maternity Leave, Social Inclusion and Sustainable Development”attended by hundreds of delegates.  Convened by the Platform for Labour Action (PLA), the session was part of deliberations that constituted the Second National Conference on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ESCRs), held on 16-17 at Makerere University, in Kampala.

The tone for the session was set by three key speakers including: Mrs Lilian Mugerwa, the Executive Director for PLA, and Mr Usher Wilson Owere from the National Organisation of Trade Unions (NOTU) and Mr Raymond Adriko, from the Federation of Uganda Employers, who made varying presentation on the issue of implementing the right to maternity leave in Uganda.

Mrs Lilian Mugerwa, informed delegates that the right to Maternity Leave is protected by international human rights law under the International Labour Organization’s Maternity Protection Convention (2000). She said that the rationale for Maternity Leave is to enable physical recovery of mothers after giving birth, and enable them care for and bond with their infant babies.

“In the whole world, it is only 28% of working women who can claim the right to maternity, while in Africa it is only 15%”, Mrs Mugerwa revealed, decrying high levels of ignorance among women as a core factor that undermines their ability to claim for the right. She further regretted that Uganda, as a country, has not ratified the Convention, and thus is not conforming to the standards stipulated in the Convention.  For examples, whereas the Convention stipulates that Maternity Leave should be atleast 14 weeks, the laws of Uganda stipulate 12 weeks.

Mr Usher Wilson Owere regretted that maternity leave is very difficult to enforce for women who work in informal sectors where neither formal agreements nor trade unions exist. In addition, he was concerned that although a national law on maternity leave exists, it lacks biting effect because the Ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development, which is supposed to enforce it, is overwhelmed by many commitments. He called for concerted efforts to advocate for a national employment policy, as one way of addressing the enforcement of labour laws.

For the right to maternity leave to be fully implemented in the country, Mr Raymond Adriko advised that employers and employees need to be sensitised to understand the need to respect the maternity leave law. “Some employers consider maternity leave as a cost of production as it involves paying salary to someone who does not contribute to business; while some employees, out of ignorance, negotiate against their right to maternity leave”, he observed.

In the plenary, which concluded the session, delegates expressed concerns over lack of political will to implement the maternity leave law, inadequate awareness among employees and employers; poor working conditions for women especially in the less-regulated informal sector, and lack of labour officers at district local government level to support the implementation of labour laws.  As a way forward, delegates called for Uganda’s ratification of the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention (2000), and the enactment and implementation of a national employment policy and a national social protection policy as necessary steps to protect labour rights in the country.  Delegates further proposed that alternative flexible working arrangements for mothers should be considered by employers; and more sensitisation of employers and employees especially in the small and medium enterprises sector on the importance of maternity Leave should be undertaken.