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Brief Report of ICEM A/P--FES Women's Workshop on Maternity Campaign

Organised by International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions -Asia Pacific (ICEM-AP)

3-4 September, Lalitpur


Introduction

The Asia-Pacific region represents huge diversity in terms of state system, human race, cultural patterns and development profile. Some countries provide better working environment for the protection of maternity, promote equality of women in the workplace, adequate health and safety services for mother and child while others are caught at the bottom of development statistics and face enormous obstacles to family management and equitable development. Their wretched socio-economic conditions challenge the possibility of implementation of labor, constitutional and human rights laws about protection of pregnancy, breastfeeding, maternity and parental leave policies, health and safety, gender equality and equality of opportunity though they have ratified many ILO conventions as well as universal declaration of human rights. Ratification of ILO convention 183 is in limbo. Under this convention, women employees are entitled to access to health and safety, maternity leave for child bearing and child rearing, social security benefits, employment protection, non-discrimination in workplace and their freedom to carry family roles and responsibilities.

Maternity protection is attracting the attention of trade unions, women's groups, media and international community because many of its provisions remain un-fulfilled due to the gender-bias nature of government and employees, poor resource allocation to integrate this concept into the state and employers' policies, ineffective workers' movement and even lack of collaborative action among the women workers themselves. Besides, most of trade union leaders are men and they are the dynamic members of society. Women are facing difficulties to participate actively in trade unions, even attend their meetings regularly due to their huge domestic responsibilities and social and cultural taboos to participate in public life. The informalization of work, especially those of women, following globalization has further made them weaker in collective bargaining. Strengthening their voice, visibility and participation in public spheres is a major policy challenge for maternity campaign building.

Objectives

The workshop aims to discuss:

  • maternity protection for contract workers,
  • assess collective bargaining achievements and set priorities in this area of work,
  • work towards the ratification of ILO convention 183 on maternity protection Preparation of joint action plan on negotiating maternity protection especially focusing the contract workers.
  • Harmonizing and coordinating the actions of GUF's, such as recruiting non-unionized workers, particularly in the informal sector, for example in India, and unionizing women and young workers.
  • Building and strengthening regional and sub-regional union women networks for the ICEM Asia-Pacific region.
  • The subject matter covered the ICEM's 7 points, primarily those relevant for the maternity rights work. Research and information exchange on best practices of maternity protection, bargaining for paternity leave and work-life balance, work on informal workers, migrant workers and contract and agency workers, women's leadership training and broadening women's leadership.

Participation and Resource Persons

The representation of participating unions came from Australia (1), India (3), Japan (6), Indonesia (2), Thailand (4), Pakistan (1) and Nepal (7). Among them only 3 males were participants. There were two language interpreters from Japan (based in Belgium) and Thailand. Resources persons were Mrs. Carol Bruce (USA), Ms. Binda Panday (Chairperson of Fundamental Rights Committee of Constituent Assembly of Nepal), Mr. Soloman Rajbansi (program officer of ILO in Nepal) and Mr. Dev Raj Dahal (Chief of FES, Nepal office).

Contents and Methodology

The program was interactive and participatory. It applied role play, group presentation and cross-group interaction. It began with introduction of the participants and their position in the union as well as work experience. The general sessions involved the conditions of the women in Asia-Pacific region, impact of global economic crisis, role of unions in their campaign to exert pressure on the government to ratify ILO convention 183 and activities regarding women's empowerment. The technical sessions focused on the provisions of maternity leave in both formal and informal sectors, health protection of women and children, cash and medical facilities to women for child bearing and child rearing, employment protection and non-discrimination and time for breast feeding to newly born child. The country experiences differed. This was demonstrated in country reports based on social development and legal development of the countries concerned. Participants also exchanged ideas about the best practices of unions of various countries.

Outcome

Participants found the workshop very informative and useful and pledged to report it to their respective unions on what the Women's Committee of ICEM has done and do the follow-up meetings with their male counterparts. They also pledged to work hard to familiarize the concept of maternity protection, forge alliance with civil society and like-minded unions and put pressure on the governments for the ratification of ILO Convention 183. They also decided to organize one tripartite meeting with ILO in Nepal and another follow up meeting in Australia. In their follow-up meeting they decided to undertake several measures: First awareness building of workers and their unions and initiating campaign on maternity protection to familiarize the public, employers on social responsibility and decision-makers and make public policies about this actionable and justiceable. Second, they agreed for coalition building and collective action, not just those of the women workers only but also broaden this include male workers. Third, they felt the need to review the stock of information on various aspects of maternity beginning with puberty, pregnancy, child birth, breastfeeding, women's health, social environment, nutritious food, and the overall status of gender. Fourth, they also decided to do the capacity building of trade unions and women's organizations, health and nutrition groups and take support from the Ministry of Labor and other departments Health, Trade, Social Security, Public Health, Occupational Health, Women, Children and Social Welfare, Family, and Gender Equality. Effectiveness of maternity campaign is, therefore, essential now to broaden the scope of laws to integrate more women, promote them in leadership position, extend the length of maternity leave, suggest a new proposal for financing maternity benefits, disseminate knowledge and information about health risks and health protection in the workplace to more and women employees, sensitize all workers to the issues of gender-specific discrimination and give incentives to those involved in the execution of laws. To make the campaign successful, information flow, research and communications, lobbying and monitoring the impact are essential components.

 
Copyright©2001. Friedrich Ebert Stiftung, Nepal Office
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