Vietnam urged to allow paternity leave, improve maternity protection

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New-born babies at the Tu Du Hospital in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Nguyen Mi
The International Labor Organization has urged Vietnam to stipulate paternity leave as a bill concerning the issue is going to be discussed at a parliamentary session this month.
“Men in Vietnam are not entitled to any paternity leave, which has become more common in the world,” the organization said in a statement on May 13.
ILO statistics show at least 78 out of 167 countries provided some form of leave that fathers can use around the birth of a child in 2013, a significant increases from only 40 countries in 1994.
“Recognition of men’s right to parenthood, as well as their responsibility to share unpaid care and household work, will help to break down traditional social attitudes and promote greater gender equality at work and at home,” ILO Vietnam director Gyorgy Sziraczki said.
The Bill on Social Insurance, which will be discussed at the upcoming National Assembly meeting later this month, introduces paternity leave in Vietnam for the first time.
If it was passed, male workers are entitled to five to seven full paid working days depending on whether it was a natural birth of C-section.
The bill also allows adoption leave, which means workers adopting a child of under six months of age are entitled to take leave until the child is full six months old.
In a recent report, titled "Maternity and Paternity at Work: Law and practices across the world," ILO compares national laws in 185 countries and territories with the most recent ILO standards.
The report showed a positive shift in length of leave and no country has cut maternity leave length since 1994.
With the 2012 Labor Code increasing maternity leave from four to six months, maternity leave period in Vietnam is among the longest in Asia where only five countries meet or exceed the 14-week ILO standard (Mongolia 120 days of leave, Bangladesh 16 weeks, Singapore 16 weeks and China 14 weeks).
“When leave is too short, mothers may rightly give preference to the protection of the health of the child and that of their own and they might not feel ready to return to work and drop out of the workforce,” said Sziraczki.
“But very long periods may also damage women’s attachment to and advancement in paid work and run the risk of discrimination against female workers during recruitment, pregnancy and leave. It’s a two-edged sword!”
Like Vietnam, 58 percent of countries and territories now finance maternity leave cash benefits through social security whereas one quarter stipulate that payment during leave should be covered entirely by the employer.
However, Laura Addati, a specialist on maternity protection and work-family with ILO, said that lack of protection in practice remains one of the major challenges for maternity and paternity at work today.
Around the world, most women, numbering around 830 million workers, still do not have adequate maternity protection in terms of leave and income security around childbirth, said Addati, co-author of the report.
Almost 80 percent of these women work in Africa and Asia where some groups of workers are excluded from protection in law and in practice, according to the report.
This is often the case for self-employed, migrant, domestic, agricultural, casual or temporary workers, and indigenous and tribal peoples, the report found.
The ILO has three maternity protection conventions adopted in 1919, 1952 and 2000. These conventions stipulate the prevention of exposure to health and safety hazards during pregnancy and nursing, entitlement to paid maternity leave, maternal and child health and breastfeeding breaks, and protection against discrimination and dismissal in relation to maternity, as well as a guaranteed right to return to work after maternity leave.
Up to 66 countries of 185 countries and territories have committed to at least one of the three conventions, excluding Vietnam.
But ILO said the provisions of the Labor Code and the proposed amendments to the Social Insurance Law, coupled with other measures, are expected to lead to the ratification and implementation of ILO conventions to protect the health and well-being of Vietnamese mothers and their children.
“Safeguarding women’s employment and income security during and after maternity is also essential to ensure women’s access to equality of opportunity and treatment in the workplace, and promote gender equality and women’s empowerment,” Sziraczki said.

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