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Care economy

Closing gaps in leaves and care services would generate millions of formal jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean, especially for women

Despite the progress made in the last decade, there are still large regulatory and enforcement gaps in maternity protection, leaves, and child and elderly care in the countries of the region.

News | 08 November 2022
BUENOS AIRES – Extending coverage of childcare leaves and breastfeeding breaks in accordance with international standards, and universalizing quality childcare and long-term services would generate millions of direct and indirect jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean, mostly formal and occupied by women.

This is evidenced in the study Care at Work in Latin America and the Caribbean: Investing in leave and care services for greater equality in the world of work (available in Spanish) of the ILO Regional Office, analyses policy developments in maternity protection, leave and care services and their effective implementation in 32 countries of the region.

"It is urgent to invest in transformative care policies to generate decent work in the care sector, strengthen social protection systems and contribute to closing gender gaps in the labour market and in the distribution of care work," said Paz Arancibia, ILO gender specialist for Latin America and the Caribbean, at the presentation of the report during the XV ECLAC Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, held this week in Buenos Aires. "This is a sine qua non for productive, equal and inclusive development," she added.

A global simulation conducted by the ILO in 82 countries of the world released at the beginning of the year, including Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico, and Peru estimated that investing to universalize childcare leaves, breastfeeding breaks, childcare services, and long-term care services in these seven Latin American countries would generate 25.8 million direct and indirect jobs.

About 9 out of 10 jobs would be formal and about 8 out of 10 would be occupied by women.

The author of the ILO regional report, Larraitz Lexartza, noted: "Despite the progress made in the last decade, the countries of the region face significant challenges in the field of care. The pandemic has further demonstrated the centrality of care and the urgency of consolidating and expanding the efforts made".

Maternity, paternity, and parental leaves

While all the countries analysed recognize the right to maternity leave, there are considerable gaps from international standards in terms of duration, pecuniary benefits, and financing: in 17 countries duration of leaves is less than 14 weeks -the minimum period stipulated in the ILO Convention No. 183.

In four countries, funding allowance during leave represents less than two thirds of previous income, and in one country benefits funding is provided by employer and in five it is mixed, that is, payment is shared between employer and social security.

In addition, legal coverage is less or non-existent in many countries for female domestic workers, female self-employed workers, female informal workers, and adoptive mothers.

In terms of paternity leave, twelve countries still do not recognize this right. Among those that offer this type of leave, in ten its duration is five days or less. With regard to monetary benefits, in two countries paternity leave is not remunerated; in most -thirteen countries- paid leaves are payable by employer and in two countries benefit funding is mixed. Only eight countries apply them in the case of adoption.

With regard to parental leaves (leave immediately after maternity and paternity leave, which in most cases can be shared between father and mother), only four countries in the region recognize parental leave, and in one of them it is unpaid.

Long-term and emergency care leaves

Only five countries (one without remuneration) contemplate long-term leaves to care for sick or dependent relatives that need support on a day-to-day basis.

With regard to emergency leaves (short-term permits that can be taken in cases of force majeure in situations of family emergency), less than half of the countries (15 out of 32) recognize them, and only one is funded by social security.

Safety and health at work during pregnancy and breastfeeding

Of the 32 countries in the region, 22 do not have measures to protect pregnant and breastfeeding women from night work and 10 do not have any protection against hard, dangerous, unhealthy, toxic, and harmful work. Of those who do provide for this type of protection, some still have provisions that involve gender discrimination, since they prohibit all women from engaging in night work or dangerous work.

With regard to paid time off for prenatal medical examinations, in 25 countries legislation does not provide for this benefit

Breastfeeding at Work

So far, in 12 countries women have no right to paid breastfeeding breaks; and in the 20 countries that do recognize it, funding is the responsibility of employers. Of the countries that establish this right, seven do not stipulate the period for which it may be enjoyed. In addition, only two countries have a break time of more than one hour.

Regulations in 12 countries require breastfeeding facilities in the workplace, although criteria vary from country to country.

Childcare services and long-term services

In most of the countries in the region there is a considerable discrepancy between the end of leave to care for the new-born and the beginning of universal statutory childcare services or the beginning of mandatory primary.

Within this period, families lack the necessary support to look after their daughters and sons. In 23 of the 29 countries for which information is available, the gaps range from 2,7 years to 6,7 years. In the remaining 6 countries there is no period of time without support, as required by legislation. In practice, however, coverage of services is limited in most cases.

While legal-backed long-term care services for older adults are available in 18 countries of the region, coverage is scarce and often outsourced.

Twelve countries provide home-based personal care services, eight have day care facilities, and 17 have statutory residential long-stay care services provided or subsidized by the State.