Extending childcare and breastfeeding leave coverage, along with the universalisation of quality child and adult care services, would generate more than 25 million direct and indirect jobs in Latin America and the Caribbean, most of which would benefit women and would be in the formal sector of the economy.
This is according to 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" by the Regional Office of the International Labour Organization, which analyses the normative advances and their application in terms of maternity protection, as well as leave and care services in 32 countries in the region.
In presenting the report, Paz Arancibia, gender specialist for the UN agency in Latin America and the Caribbean, said that "it is urgent to invest in policies" that generate decent jobs in the care sector.
She also called for strengthening social protection systems and contributing to closing the gender gap in the labour market and in the distribution of care work.
All of this, she added, "is a sine qua non for productive, equitable and inclusive development".
The report was presented during the 15th Regional Conference on Women in Latin America and the Caribbean, organised by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and held this week in Buenos Aires.
According to ILO estimates, investing in universal childcare leave, breastfeeding breaks, childcare services and long-term care services in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Mexico and Peru would generate 25.8 million direct and indirect jobs.
Around nine out of ten jobs would be formal and around eight out of ten would be filled by women.
The author of the regional report, Larraitz Lexartza, pointed out that "despite the progress made in the last decade, the countries of the region face important challenges in the area of care. The pandemic has further highlighted the centrality of care and the urgency of consolidating and expanding the efforts made.
While all the countries surveyed recognise the right to maternity leave, there are considerable gaps with respect to international standards in terms of duration, cash benefits and funding: in 17 countries the duration of leave is less than 14 weeks, the minimum period stipulated in the International Labour Organisation's Convention No. 183.
In four countries, the cash benefit during leave represents less than two-thirds of the previous income, and in one country the benefits are financed by the employer and in five it is mixed, i.e. the payment is shared between the employer and the social security system.
Legal coverage is also lower or non-existent in many countries for domestic workers, the self-employed, informal workers and adoptive mothers.
As for paternity leave, twelve countries still do not recognise this right. Among those that do have paternity leave, ten have paternity leave of five days or less. With regard to cash benefits, in two countries paternity leave is unpaid; in the majority - thirteen countries - the leave is paid by the employer and in two the funding of the benefit is mixed. Only eight countries apply it in the case of adoption.
As regards parental leave (leave immediately following maternity and paternity leave, which in most cases can be shared between mother and father), only four countries in the region recognise parental leave, and in one of them it is unpaid.
Only five countries (one of them unpaid) provide for long-term leave to care for sick or dependent family members who require support for daily activities.
As for emergency leave (short-term leave that can be taken in case of force majeure in family emergency situations), less than half of the countries (15 out of 32) recognise it, and in only one is funded by social security.
Of the 32 countries in the region, 22 have no measures to protect pregnant and breastfeeding women from night work, and 10 have no protection against arduous, dangerous, unhealthy, toxic and harmful work.
Of those that do provide for such protection, some still maintain provisions that imply gender discrimination, as they prohibit all women from performing night work or hazardous work.
With regard to paid time off for prenatal medical examinations, 25 countries do not provide for this in their legislation.
So far, in 12 countries women do not have the right to paid breastfeeding breaks at work; and in the 20 that do, employers are responsible for funding them. Of the countries that do provide for this right, seven do not stipulate the period for which it can be taken. Moreover, in only two countries is the break time longer than one hour.
The regulations in 12 countries require breastfeeding facilities in the workplace, although the criteria vary from country to country.
In most countries in the region there is a considerable time lag between the end of parental leave and the start of statutory universal childcare services or the start of compulsory primary school.
In that time, families lack the necessary support to care for their children. In 23 of the 29 countries for which information is available, the gaps range from 2.7 years to 6.7 years. In the six remaining countries for which information is available, there is no period of time without support as defined by legislation. However, in practice the coverage of services is low in most cases.
While legally supported long-term care services for older people exist in 18 countries in the region, their coverage is low and they are often outsourced.
Twelve countries provide personal home care services, eight have day care centres and 17 have statutory residential long-term care services provided or subsidised by the state.
This article was originally published in UN News. Read the original.