In 2000, the International Labour Organization (ILO) adopted Convention No. 183, better known as the Maternity Protection Convention. The purpose of the Convention was to protect the health and safety of mother and child and to promote the equality of all women in the labour force. Essentially, this short document sets several guidelines, or minimum standards, that ought to be implemented globally for pregnant women and working mothers to be adequately protected in the labour market. Since its adoption, 39 countries have ratified the Convention, while Georgia, an ILO member since 1993, has not. But does this imply that Georgian labour legislation comes up short against the minimum standards set by the ILO? To answer this question, we must first examine the standards set by the Convention.
Among the key tenets of C183 are standards governing maternity leave duration and compensation. In particular, the Convention stipulates a minimum of 14 weeks (3.5 months) of paid leave for women, where at least 6 weeks are mandatory. Importantly, the compensation should provide a woman and her child with a suitable standard of living for the duration of the leave. As such, it should be no less than 2/3 of the woman’s previous earnings during the leave period. At first glance, Georgian legislation provides a very generous package to working women. Currently, the Labour Code of Georgia (LLCG) says that women can take up to 730 days of leave, of which 183 days (6 months) are paid. Moreover, working women are paid a maternity benefit from the state budget at a rate that can reach up to 100% of their salary. Sounds good so far. However, several important caveats make a difference here. First, under the Georgian legislation, leave is not mandatory, which means that women can choose or be pressured into choosing a shorter leave or no leave at all, to the detriment of their own and their child’s health.
The second caveat is that all workers who are covered by the LLCG (roughly 97% of all hired female employees in Georgia) have their maternity/childcare benefits capped at 1000 GEL. This cap was set by the legislative amendment in 2014 (increased from 600 GEL) and has not been revised since. Where does it leave Georgian women in terms of “suitable standard of living for the duration of the leave”? Figure 1 below tells the story.
Figure 1. Maternity leave cash allowance relative to 1.5 times the subsistence minimum for an average consumer
While nominally the legislation remunerates salary at 100% for the duration of 6 months, the cap of 1000 GEL on benefits effectively puts the compensation for a woman and her child below the subsistence minimum. The current leave compensation covers only 65 per cent of the subsistence minimum for a woman and her child (which is determined by the OECD as subsistence minimum for 1.5 equivalent of an adult) for the period of 6 months, and this value keeps deteriorating as time passes.
It is important to note that Georgia is not alone in setting a cap on maternity leave benefits. Many other countries, including in the EU, have such caps in place. However, Georgia, to our knowledge, is the only European country where the cap is set below the subsistence minimum for the duration of the leave. Needless to say, maternity leave compensation is one of the important shortcomings of the current Georgian labour legislation concerning maternity protection. The Regulatory Impact Assessment study performed by our team and based on an in-depth review of the Georgian labour legislation, data analysis, and numerous stakeholder interviews identified non-sufficient income during maternity leave as one of the two key problems concerning maternity protection in Georgia.
The second major problem we have identified is the unequal take-up of maternity and childcare leave by different groups of workers. The labour legislation of Georgia treats different groups of workers differently. For example, while the LLCG covers the majority of employees in the country, including some categories of state employees, such as pre-school and school teachers, different legislation covers a much smaller group of workers: civil servants. According to the Law on Civil Service, civil sector workers are entitled to 6 months of paid leave compensated at a 100% rate, without a cap. This, without question, potentially provides a far more generous level of benefits and leads to the problem of unequal treatment under the law and unequal uptake of maternity leave among different groups of female workers.
An extension of this problem is the lopsided uptake of childcare leave among women and men, which negatively affects the work-life balance of new parents, and can be seen as unfair towards women and discriminatory towards men. For example, the legislation still makes it very difficult for men who are civil servants to take paid childcare leave. Until the recent changes to the Labour Code came into effect (September 2020), it was procedurally impossible for men in all other sectors to take any amount of paid childcare leave. Because of this, women in Georgia were overwhelmingly the ones taking time off work to care for newborns. This, in turn, is one of the contributing factors to wage discrimination against women in the workplace – women of child-bearing age are perceived by employers as potentially less productive due to their existing or potential childcare responsibilities.
Currently, however, the LLCG explicitly defines the concept of paid parental leave (57 days out of the 183 days of paid leave), which can be taken by either a father or a mother. Unfortunately, the overall cap of 1000 GEL on benefits still remains in place and does nothing to improve the incentives for men to take up the paid leave or to remove the most pressing problem of inadequate leave compensation.
WHAT ABOUT OTHER ASPECTS OF THE CONVENTION?
Health protection and working conditions of breastfeeding and pregnant women – The Convention requires that pregnant and breastfeeding women are relieved from work that is harmful or hazardous to their health or the health of the child. Necessary accommodations should be made to transfer such women to a safer work environment. In case such a transfer is not possible, paid leave should be provided by national laws and practices. In addition, women should be compensated for the working hours not worked due to medical examinations related to their pregnancy. Requiring overtime work from pregnant or nursing women or those with a child under 3 years of age should be prohibited as well.
The recently revised LLCG does a good job of meeting these requirements, except it does not set a clear obligation on the employer to provide paid compensation to a woman who otherwise cannot be transferred to a less hazardous position. As such, it is not in line with standards set by the ILO.
Employment protection and non-discrimination – The Convention emphasizes the woman’s right to return to the same position or an equivalent one paid at the same rate after maternity leave. Prior to the recent amendments, LLCG was not explicit in granting women the right to return to the same position after leave. Fortunately, the most recent revision of the law included such a provision, bringing the Georgian labour code closer to international standards.
In addition, the Convention stipulates that its standards should apply to all women, including those in atypical forms of dependent work (including part-time workers and those informally employed, e.g. domestic workers, etc). Currently, the Georgian labour legislation does define part-time work in more detail and specifically prohibits employers from treating workers differently based on their part-time status. However, the law does not provide clear coverage for all groups of workers who may potentially fall into the “atypical” work category. The law should be explicit that maternity leave benefits and all other protections associated with Convention No. 183 should include women employed in atypical forms of dependent work (including, for example, domestic workers) even if their contracts are verbal/informal. Accordingly, our analysis concludes that even as the Labour Code of Georgia made significant progress over the past decade (including the most recent labour legislation changes adopted in September 2020) it still comes short of several key standards set by C183.
WHICH POLICY OPTION IS BEST FOR GEORGIA?
Our study examined in detail the costs and benefits associated with two sets of potential policies.
• Option 1 considered adopting the legislative changes that would meet just the minimum requirements of C183. The budgetary cost of Option 1 would be 68.6 million GEL over three years. This is quite a reasonable number, considering that financing this option through borrowing (without raising taxes) would only increase the deficit-to-GDP ratio by 0.05 percentage points relative to the baseline.
• Option 2 goes beyond the ILO standards and aligns Georgian legislation with current EU standards. In particular, in addition to aligning maternity benefits with subsistence minimum, Option 2 would introduce a 14-day paternity leave exclusive to men and would guarantee 2 months of non-transferable paid leave for all workers, including men and women. Although this option is the more expensive of the two (the budgetary cost is 159 mln GEL over 3 years), it would best serve the long-term social and economic goals of the country by reducing existing gender gaps in the labour market and closing legislative gaps to parental leave for both men and women, in the civil service sector and all other sectors.
The feasibility of introducing Option 2 will depend on whether the Government can find fiscal room to introduce this option. If no fiscal room can be found (via additional revenues or reductions in costs), the government should introduce Option 1 (the minimum requirements of C183) as the second-best policy choice.
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This blog has been produced within the framework of the UN Women project “Women’s Economic Empowerment in the South Caucasus”, funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) and the Austrian Development Cooperation (ADC). The document has been created in close cooperation with the ISET Policy Institute and UN Women teams. However, its content is the sole responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily reflect the views of the UN Women, SDC, and ADC.