On International Labour Day, Oxfam Brings Attention to the Challenges Marginalized Women Workers in Cambodian and ASEAN Face in Accessing Maternity Protection

Friday, April 30, 2021

Vientiane Capital, 30 April 2021 – Commemorating this year’s Labour Day, Oxfam and partners in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam launched a digital campaign to raise awareness on challenges faced by women workers in accessing maternity protection benefits. In Laos, most workers are in the informal sector, without access to maternity leave, benefits or protections. Oxfam and partners are raising awareness on the urgent need for maternity protection provisions that protect all women workers, especially those in the informal sector.

Ms. Kathy Richards, Country Director of Oxfam in Laos says: “Maternity protection is a fundamental labour right for all women. It is essential for achieving gender equality, well-being and health of mothers and children, and equal opportunities in the labour force. According to a 2020 World Bank report, women in their main reproductive years (ages 25-34) are more likely to be overrepresented among the poor. In Laos, women spend an average of 4-6 hours a day performing unpaid care and domestic work, compared to only 30 minutes for men (CARE 2020), including during pregnancy and maternity, and a devastating COVID-19 pandemic. This means women have less time to earn an income, save and contribute to social security. It means women have greater vulnerability to chronic poverty for them and their children. We must ensure that Lao law protects all women workers, through the formalization of all work, and by providing comprehensive protections and benefits during pregnancy and maternity.”

According to a soon-to-be-released Oxfam report, gaps in national legislation presents the main obstacle to providing better maternity protection for all women workers in Laos. Although there are health care schemes available to women informal workers, the Labour Law of Laos does not yet constitute all maternal protections coverages, such as maternity leave and benefits. Only women workers who have labour contracts, and have made minimum contributions to the Lao Social Security Organisation can access maternity protection benefits.

In the current system in Laos, public civil servant women workers are protected with maternity leave and benefits. However, women working in the informal sector, such as farmers, home-based workers, and waste pickers, lack these support services. This means the most poor and at risk women have no back up when they need to take time away from work to have a baby, and care for their new born child or children. In a time of a global pandemic, these challenges have increased considerably.

"Since the pandemic, raising a family has been harder," says Bing Phonkao, an informal worker and mother of four, living in Vientiane Capital. Like many mothers, Bing works hard to balance caring for her children, her youngest only a few months old, with maintaining a decent livelihood source. During Laos’ first lockdown in March to May 2020 , Bing’s income from selling vegetables at the local markets halved. A year later, her livelihood has yet to recover.

Given the gaps in support for women workers during challenges of pregnancy and with maternity care, especially for informal women workers, Oxfam calls on the Laos government to consider better aligning laws and policies with ILO Maternity Protection Convention No. 183 (2000). The Convention establishes minimum standards in five core areas: maternity leave; cash and medical benefits; health protection at the workplace; employment protection and non-discrimination; and breastfeeding conditions.

About maternity protection

Maternity protection is human right and essential component to achieve gender equality and support economic growth. It is necessary for enhancing the wellbeing, health and nutrition of mothers and children, and for ensuring women’s equal opportunities and treatment in the world of work. Maternity protection facilitates women’s recovery after childbirth and supports mothers to establish breastfeeding - a crucial factor in health child development.

To protect women’s health and productivity and to ensure non-discrimination on the basis of gender, expectant and recovering mothers need protection of their right to take time off work for childbirth and recovery.

About Oxfam in Laos

Oxfam has had a presence in Lao PDR since the late 1980s and supports in areas such as building civil society capacity, community development, social protection, gender justice and natural resource management. Oxfam in Laos works in a wide range of programs such as: empowering Lao women leaders with the capacity and knowledge to develop livelihoods sources through organic farming, working with youth-led groups to increase youth participation in development, and collaborating with private companies in the rubber plantation industry to develop environmentally and worker friendly operations guidelines. laos.oxfam.org