Maternity leave: the story of Amena

Read the case of Amena, a new mother in Bangladesh who faced problems at work when she wanted to go back to the factory, to earn money for herself and for her child.

Amena is a new mother in Bangladesh. She called FWF’s helpline number and reported that she had not received the second part of her maternity payment. When she went back to the factory, three months after having given birth to her beautiful baby girl, she was told that she was no longer needed in the factory. Her manager informed her that she had been replaced. She was then asked to sign a resignation letter, which she didn’t do. She said to FWF’s complaints handler:

‘What should I do? I will not be able to pay my rent and the food. My mother is coming from the countryside this month. I asked her to come and take care of my baby for a few months. I thought my money would be enough. Now how can I provide for my family, if I lose my job? How am I going to take care of my baby? I am afraid of telling my husband and my mother… ’

FWF looked into the complaint and contacted the member that was sourcing in that factory about the case. The member immediately contacted the factory to hear the other side of the story.  And the management at the factory admitted they had made a mistake, so they reinstated Amena.

Amena was very lucky. She is among the 5% of Bangladeshi garment workers who have enjoyed paid maternity leave. Many other workers had to quit when they got pregnant and got back to their hometowns for their whole maternity. They then rejoined the factory as newly recruited workers after giving birth. They probably knew very little about maternity leave. According to a FWF survey of more than 600 women workers in 2013, only 25% of the respondents had basic knowledge about maternity benefits. Some workers said that maternity leave was not for production workers, it was for office staff.

Wages also make a difference

The situation is very similar in India. There aren’t many calls to the local helpline enquiring about maternity leave, most likely because workers are not even aware that a thing such as maternity leave exists and they can take paid time off.

However, low awareness the only reason why workers are not getting maternity leave and benefits? The answer doesn’t seem to be that straight forward. In China, where most workers know about maternity benefits and factories are willing to pay maternity leave, workers still choose to quit when they are pregnant. The reasons are multifold. Working in a garment factory requires long hours and intensive labour. Workers feel that they cannot come back to work just yet 3 months after giving birth. Besides, maternity benefits are usually based on the basic salary of the worker, which is the minimum wage. At least half of their incomes come from OT. The total amount of maternity benefits is not enough for a worker to live in the city for 3 months. Thus paying living wages will enable more women taking maternity leaves.

Then there is an additional question. How about the new fathers? Do they have paternity leave? Has this concept been introduced to the production countries already?

Paternity leave

Paternity leave is not as known as maternity. According to a publication of ILO in 2014 (see the chart below), paternity leave is a legal provision in Bangladesh, Indonesia and Myanmar. There are 10 days paid paternity leaves for new fathers in Bangladesh. The number of paid paternity leave days is higher than the Netherlands, which is two days. Again, majority of the workers in the garment industry do not know about this. Workers also do not expect that they have the rights for paternity leave.

Key national statutory provisions on maternity and paternity leave, in 2013.

Country Duration of maternity leave, Amount of maternity leave cash benefits (% of previous earnings) Duration of paternity leave, Amount of paternity leave cash benefits (% of previous earnings)
Bangladesh 16 weeks 100% 10 days, 100%
China 14 weeks 100% No paternity leave
India 12 weeks 100% No paternity leave
Indonesia 13 weeks 100% 2 days, 100%
Myanmar 12 weeks 66.7% 6 days, 100%
Turkey 16 week 66.7% No paternity leave
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