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Women form a subregional network to promote ratification of ILO Convention 183

16 September, 2014IndustriALL Global Union organized a subregional workshop on maternity protection in Manila, Philippines on 11 and 12 September 2014. The workshop was attended by some 30 women from the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Cambodia. The point was to find common ground to pursue the ratification of ILO Convention 183 on maternity protection in the different countries. Ultimately the women created a network and vowed to keep pushing for ratification.

The meeting was addressed by representatives from the ILO, the Philippines employers' federation and trade unions. The convention has five core elements, which are maternity leave, cash benefits, health protection at work, employment protection and non-discrimination and breast feeding arrangements. No country in the Asia region has ratified the convention. Governments and employers consider the gaps between national practice and the convention clauses to be too wide. In actual fact the stumbling block is likely to be the scope of the convention. The convention is supposed to be applied to all working women, even precarious workers in the informal economy. That is at the same time why it is necessary, for contract workers as a rule do not enjoy maternity rights.

For trade unions maternity protection is part of the agenda for women's rights which also includes gender equality, work-life balance and the insistence on more women in trade unions. Maternity and paternity have to be seen as a collective responsibility. Moreover family burdens and joys have to be shared equally between mothers and fathers. Maternity protection should be addressed in the framework of social protection policies to reduce poverty and inequalities.

What the women can do to get the convention ratified is first get agreements among all trade unions and federations that they will work together on it as a priority issue, then talk with civil society organizations and NGO's. They should develop a network, get involved, do research, go to hearings, talk to the media. In Cambodia there is good experience of broadcasting concerns on the radio. The ILO national offices can be approached for technical assistance and support for activities.

In addition the women felt that they should develop a subregional position on maternity rights that could be reflected in collective bargaining clauses. The importance of maternity rights for contract workers cannot be stressed enough.

The women agreed to do research, collect data, lobby ministries, distribute information and campaign on particular days of relevance to women such as 7 October (international Day of Decent Work), 25 November (international Day to Fight Violence against Women) and 8 March (international Women's Day). They created a Facebook page for IndustriALL women to campaign for ILO Convention 183.

The day before this workshop the National Women's Forum on Reproductive Health Rights at Work was held. It was attended by about 80 women. Here again it was important to treat maternity in the framework of other women's health issues, including HIV/AIDS. The ALU union is working together with the Philippines Ministry of Public Health to create awareness of HIV and AIDS as part of its trade union work.