International Labour Standards on Maternity protection

Raising a family is a cherished goal for many working people. Yet pregnancy and maternity are an especially vulnerable time for working women and their families. Expectant and nursing mothers require special protection to prevent harm to their or their infants' health, and they need adequate time to give birth, to recover, and to nurse their children. At the same time, they also require protection to ensure that they will not lose their job simply because of pregnancy or maternity leave. Such protection not only ensures a woman's equal access to employment, it also ensures the continuation of often vital income which is necessary for the well-being of her entire family. Safeguarding the health of expectant and nursing mothers and protecting them from job discrimination is a precondition for achieving genuine equality of opportunity and treatment for men and women at work and enabling workers to raise families in conditions of security.

Selected relevant ILO instruments

  • Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) - [ratifications] This convention is the most up-to-date international labour standard on maternity protection, although the earlier relevant instruments - the Maternity Protection Convention, 1919 (No. 3), and the Maternity Protection Convention (Revised), 1952 (No. 103) - are still in force for countries in certain countries.

    Convention No. 183 provides for 14 weeks of maternity benefit to women to whom the instrument applies. Women who are absent from work on maternity leave shall be entitled to a cash benefit which ensures that they can maintain themselves and their child in proper conditions of health and with a suitable standard of living and which shall be no less than two-thirds of her previous earnings or a comparable amount. The convention also requires ratifying states to take measures to ensure that a pregnant woman or nursing mother is not obliged to perform work which has been determined to be harmful to her health or that of her child, and provides for protection from discrimination based on maternity. The standard also prohibits employers to terminate the employment of a woman during pregnancy or absence on maternity leave, or during a period following her return to work, except on grounds unrelated to pregnancy, childbirth and its consequences, or nursing. Women returning to work must be returned to the same position or an equivalent position paid at the same rate. Also provides a woman the right to one or more daily breaks or a daily reduction of hours of work to breastfeed her child.
  • Further relevant instruments

Further information

  • ILO Database of Conditions of Work and Employment Laws - Provides a picture of the regulatory environment of working time, minimum wages and maternity protection in more than 100 countries around the world.
  • ILO Maternity Protection Resource Package – Provides guidance and tools to strengthen and extend maternity protection to all women in all types of economic activity (including in relation to maternal health, maternity leave and benefits, employment protection and non-discrimination, breastfeeding).
  • ILO Social Security Inquiry Database - Provides a statistical overview of social protection systems for nearly 100 countries around the world, including for maternity protection for a subset of countries.
  • Maternity and paternity at work: Law and practice across the world (2014) – The study reviews national law and practice on both maternity and paternity at work in 185 countries and territories including leave, benefits, employment protection, health protection, breastfeeding arrangements at work and childcare