Safe atemrnity is core to the health of the mother and infant. Thus, the issues of maternity and healthcare are central in creating a decent workplace that enhances the productivity of women. Maternity protection is indeed one of the fundamental labor rights enshrined in the universal human rights accords. The International Labor Organization (ILO) makes provisions for child welfare and maternity protection. Therefore, different countries adopt different legislative provisions pertaining to maternity protection in the workplaces. By looking at the United States of America, Sweden, and the United Arab Emirates, this paper will describe how the issue of maternity leave is practiced and managed in different countries. This paper will consider, compare and contrast the following aspects in the three countries: employment laws governing HR policies on maternity leave, cultural differences and their influence on maternity leave policies, and the challenges that different countries face when dealing with issues of maternal protection and maternity leave. Finally, the report will try to extract valuable lessons from the maternity leave programs in these three countries.
Maternity leave is an approved period of absence granted to female employees in an organization for the purposes of birth giving and providing care to the infant. This is probably the most widespread social program in workplaces worldwide. Nevertheless, there are large variations in maternity leave programs among different countries.
The length of maternity leave varies from one country to another. Various political and demographic parameters impact the period of maternity leave. However, usually, social tolerance determines the length of maternity leave. A society that condemns gender-based discrimination will mandate a longer maternity leave.
In terms of money, payment trends differ from one society to another. While in some countries, mothers on maternity leave receive direct financial support at least for a part of the leave duration, there are some countries where parents get absolutely no pay. Sweden, for instance, offers 40 weeks’ worth of full-time-equivalent pay during maternity leave. The United States, however, offers no provisions for a paid maternity leave.
According to the requirements of the ILO’s Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 of 2000 and Recommendation No. 191, maternity protection at the workplace comprises of the provision of at least 14 weeks of maternity leave at a rate of at least 2/3 of previous remunerations paid for by public or insurance funds (Duvander, 2014). In spite of this fact, about 830 million of women across the globe lack proper maternal protection. Most of these women (about 80%) reside in the African and Asian countries (Duvander, 2014).
By deciding to study how the US, Sweden and UAE experience and manage maternity leave, this paper will attempt to list recommendations for effective policy design and implementation regarding the issue. This topic makes female employment more costly for employers and thus may hinder hiring opportunities and fair wages for women. Thus, this issue calls for a critical analysis and scrutiny.
The Case of the United States
The US Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) outlines the minimum standards for maternity leave. According to this Act, a woman gets 12 weeks of maternity leave. This right is provided if the woman works in a firm with over 50 employees and has been working there for over a year with at least 1250 working hours (“Management briefing: Maternity leave and pay changes”, 2001).
The Act, however, excludes short-tenure workers and small companies. Therefore, up to 40% of US workers are not eligible for the benefits of FMLA. Among the employees who qualify for a maternity leave, only about 25% get a fully-paid leave. A fifth of all employers in the US do not offer any maternity leave, either paid or unpaid.
FMLA offers no provisos for paid leave. The act also fails to guarantee or explicitly advocate for flexible leave arrangements. Nonetheless, few states have adopted parental leave systems that are better that the one offered by the FMLA. Such mechanisms rely on state-level, social and insurance styles of administration and financing in order to offer a paid leave at partial employment rates during the leave.
The Case in Sweden
Since the mid-1960s married women have been constituting a significant portion of the Swedish labor force. The rising trend of married women entering the job market has prompted the nation to enact tremendous reforms in the Swedish family policy. The country has a parental leave program based on the philosophy which makes the government appears revolutionary but unrealistic in the eyes of many other nations.
In 1937, Sweden adopted a maternity leave system under which a wage benefit system came to life. This wage system saw mothers get paid on the leave from work due to the reasons related to childbirth. In 1974, a more comprehensive insurance scheme under a new Parental Act replaced the maternity benefit system. This scheme offered a provision for both parents to share the parental responsibilities. The current parental leave program in Sweden stems from a Child Care Leave Act passed in 1978 and first implemented in January 1979 (Han & Waldfogel, 2003). This Act has received only minor amendments since 1979 (Han & Waldfogel, 2003).
Under the Swedish Child Care Leave Act, mothers and fathers can use the right for absence related to childbirth and childcare. Female employees can get a maternity leave of up to six weeks before and after birth giving. They also get a leave of absence to nurse and look after their baby. The Act also allows a woman to transfer to alternative and less strenuous duties towards the end of pregnancy. If this relocation is not possible, then the national insurance offers the woman financial compensation alongside with the leave of absence.
The Child Care Leave Act also makes provisions for the following Parent’s Cash Benefit, which involves a direct transfer of money by the government to the recipient:
- Parent’s Cash Benefit for Childbirth payable to either of the parents for up to 180 days;
- Special Parent’s Cash Benefit that entitles either parent to remain at home and care for the child either full-time, half-time or quarterly for a maximum period corresponding to 6 months. It is payable until the child is eight years old;
- Parent’s Cash Benefit for the Temporary Care of Children, which allows the parent to remain at home and take care of a sick child under 10 years if the usual caregiver is also ill.
The Cash Benefit with all of its three components is provided for the entire 12-month leave associated with childbirth or adoption. It can be used during the first eight years of a child’s life. A recent change was made to the program named the Leave of Absence for Parents of Small Children) grants parent full job protection when they take parental leave of absence until the child is 18months old (“Management round table: Maternity leave”, 2012).
The Parental protection scheme in Sweden is heavily financed by contributions from the employer (about 84.4%), while state funding covers the remaining sum. The government, however, controls and maintains the program with the help of its comprehensive legislation.
The Case in United Arab Emirates
The UAE Labor Law Article 30 provides for a maternity leave of about 6 weeks (45 calendar days) for women working in the private sector. The leave is with full pay provided that the woman’s employment period has been over a year-long. If the woman’s employment tenure is less than a year, she can only get maternity leave with half pay. After the expiry of the leave, a woman may get a leave of absence for a maximum of 100 days, continuously or intermittently. This leave is, however, without pay and is applicable in the event of an illness, which makes it impossible for the woman to resume work. Medical authorities have to ascertain that the illness has resulted from pregnancy and/or delivery. According to Article 31 of the UAE Labor Law, women get two nursing breaks daily half hour each without any pay deductions (Kerr, 2015).
Females working for the governmental sector get up to 60 days of paid maternity leave. This right is in line with the amendment of the Dubai Government HR Law No 14 of 2010. Female employees may also get an extra 100-day unpaid maternity leave. Fathers working in the government get a paternity leave of three days. Young children of female governmental employees may also enjoy crèche facilities in various governmental departments.
Similarities in Maternity Protection Laws in the USA, Sweden and UAE
With women participating in the workforce of US, Sweden, and UAE to a significant level, the three countries recognize the need for comprehensive maternity protection. These nations are attempting of provide maternity privileges to women without them being penalized economically or professionally. Each country is making a deliberate progress in developing a maternity leave policy that would favor both the employer and employee.
All three countries are thus making significant progress towards achieving equality between sexes. All states have strong beliefs in equal rights for all citizens. Women are thus not discriminated in the workplace, because they have a chance to leave work for childbirth and childcare purposes. Labor laws in all the three countries seek to achieve egalitarianism of the sexes by strengthening the position of women both as mothers and integral participants of the national labor force.
Differences between Maternity Protection Laws in the USA, Sweden and UAE
There are outright differences in the length of time allowed for maternity leave. UAE has the shortest duration of six weeks, while both Sweden and the US allow 12 weeks of maternity leave. Both Sweden and UAE make provisions for a paid leave, while in the United States there are no federal laws requiring employers to pay their employees when they go on a maternity leave. Unlike the other two states, Sweden has a scheme in which financial support continues beyond the period of birth; it is extended to the parents until the child is eight years old. In Sweden, the government plays an active role in paying parents during the maternity period unlike in the USA and UAE.
Cultural Influence on Maternity Protection Laws in the USA, Sweden, and UAE
Gender discrimination is an issue in the Arab countries, and in the UAE as well. Women, therefore, fail to benefit fully from the mandated maternity leave provisions. Not only is the leave very short, but also the mother does not get paid if the duration of the leave exceeds the standard of 45 days.
The American culture is quite diverse. The problem of gender discrimination may not be very prominent, but the country does value productivity in the workplace. The fact that federal laws do not offer a provision for women on maternity leave to get paid shows that the nation does value productive employees.
Sweden is generally a well-developed society. The government is committed to supporting family values. With many women in Sweden looking for work outside their homes, the nation is making concerted efforts to strengthen the position of women as parents.
Challenges Facing Maternity Protection Laws in the USA, Sweden, and UAE
The main challenge related to the maternity leave policies is the employers’ reluctance to embrace them wholly. The mandated maternity leave is costly to an employer, which makes hiring women costly as well. Therefore, men are more likely to be a preferred choice in the workforce of most countries. This outcome makes it difficult for gender-based discrimination to cease in the workplaces (Gheaus & Robeyns, 2011).
The policies regarding maternity leave, especially in governmental and public institutions, are complex. There is often a lot of paperwork involved and sometimes getting the benefits may take time. Nonetheless, it has become evident that Sweden has a rather efficient system.
For a country to make substantial progress towards creating equal opportunities, there must be elaborate policies that would facilitate labor productivity within the nation. By adopting maternity leave rules that meet the recommended ILO standards, a country will promote better maternal and infant health. In the process, it will also uphold the principles of equal opportunities, fair employment and unprejudiced treatment of women against men. Based on the analysis of the practices in the UAE, there is a need for deliberate expansion of the provision of statutory support and financing during the maternity leave. The provision of financial benefits to parents during the period of birth can easily be achieved through social security.