Laziza (name is changed for privacy issues) is a formidable woman with 13 years of work experience and a mother of three wonderful children. Though it might sound a common accomplishment, in real life working women experience unique barriers to reconcile their carriers and family life. Laziza’s story illustrates hurdles women face to access their rights to paid maternity leave: although employed with a formal labour contract she was not able to effectively access all rights. Thanks to her hard work, she was able to overcome them and achieve her goals. Today she is one of the best HR specialists and an important employee of her company. However, obstacles in realisation of the right to maternity protection are often insurmountable for many. This is despite the fact that Uzbekistan ratified ILO Convention on Maternity Protection, 1952 (No 103) which enshrines the right of women employed in industrial undertakings, non-industrial, agricultural occupations and women wage earners at home, to maternity leave, medical and cash benefits. These benefits should be tailored to maintain the health of mother and child, as well as their living standards.
Close to graduation from her master’s studies, Laziza started applying to various vacancies and taking job interviews. Since she was newly married, many organizations refused to hire her, expecting that she would have to take maternity leave soon after. In one organisation, she went through all recruitment stages, and in the end, she was asked to sign a a declaration, committing herself not to take a leave from work for five years due to pregnancy and maternity. She had to refuse.
“I could not make such a long-term commitment at that time, and this was the only reason for the rejection of that offer,” remembers Laziza.
First job and first child
After her studies, she started teaching a foreign language in a public school. She enjoyed teaching and working with children. A year into her job, she realised that soon she would become a mother. Joy and excitement filled her in anticipation of the firstborn. The whole family was rejoiced after accepting this news. However, unpleasant news awaited her at school. The school administration directly told Laziza that she could take (maternity) leave, but she would not receive any maternity benefits. So, her leave was officially registered, according to which she had a right to maternity cash benefit, but as she was informed earlier, she did not receive it. Having decided to defend her rights, Laziza entered into an unpleasant conflict with the school administration. In the end of the day, the employer agreed to hand over the money that they received as maternity benefit from the public budget but decided to conceal from Laziza to use it for themselves.
“After the maternity leave, I could not return to this school, although I loved my job. The attitude of the administration has deteriorated so much that it was uncomfortable for me to work in that environment,” says Laziza. “Maternity benefit is a significant help for a young family that is getting ready for childbirth and for covering expenses in the first months after the birth.”
Common practice in the private sector
After her second son's birth, Laziza decided to return to the labour market and started working in a private company as an office manager. During the recruitment process, the management warned her that in that company, as elsewhere in the private sector, there is no practice of paying maternity benefits. This did not discourage her from joining the company as she liked the work and the team. After working for a couple of years at that company, Laziza was about to become a mother for the third time. This time there she was prepared in advance that the company would not pay her maternity benefit. The company terminated the employment contract with Laziza but promised that the contract with her would be renewed as soon as she decided to return to work.
“According to the current legislation, private companies must pay maternity benefits from their own budget, and I understood that it is an additional financial burden for employers. Therefore, I did not demand payments from my company. Since I was already an experienced mother, I was ready to return to work after 6 months after my daughter’s birth. The team warmly welcomed my return,” recalls Laziza.
During her third maternal leave, Laziza received social benefit for childcare (intended for families living with low incomes), financed from the state budget and delivered by local self-government bodies/mahalla. This benefit intended for families living with low incomes helped cover the cost of daily necessities despite their small size.
Laziza's story is not unique. Many women in Uzbekistan face similar problems in their professional life. According to Laziza herself, many of her friends from the university were unable to start their careers because of discrimination based on possible pregnancy. Others had to quit their jobs when they became mothers. Few have managed to find a way to combine both career and motherhood. Lack of access to rights in case of maternity contributes to gender inequality at work, and income insecurity that is vital in for maternal and child health. Maternity protection in the workplace gives women a chance to fulfill their professional potential and contribute to their families and society as a whole.
Commentary from the Federation of Trade Unions of the Republic of Uzbekistan
The lawyer of the Federation of Trade Union understands how difficult it is for Laziza combining personal and professional life for women could be. According to Article 233 of the Labour Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan from 1995, all women formally employed in public and private sectors are entitled to maternity leave of seventy calendar days before childbirth and fifty-six calendar days after it with payment of state social insurance benefits. Any practices from employers about non-granting the official leave and non-payment of benefits are illegal.
However, it should be noted that current procedures of maternity benefit provision violate the Labour Code. According to the charter on the provision of state social benefits dated 08.05.2002, in for-profit/private entities maternity benefits are paid from the own funds of enterprises.
Commentary from the National Gender Commission on Gender Equality under the Oliy Majlis of the Republic of Uzbekistan
The National Commission on Gender Equality has scrutinised the national legislation to check for the conformity of women's labour and entrepreneurial rights with social security standards. To prevent discrimination and unfair treatment like Laziza faced, the Commission is proposing amendments to Article 24 of the Law “On equal rights and opportunities for women and men”. ‘We think the state must guarantee rights to maternity and paternity leaves, and maternity benefits must be paid from the state budget – stated the member of the Gender Equality Commission.
The UN Joint Programme on Strengthening Social Protection in Uzbekistan supports the Government and social partners to increase their understanding of international social security standards for workers with family responsibilities, and their application into national legislation, policy and practice. Maternity protection and paternity leaves are integral parts of these standards. The first step towards realisation of the right to maternity protection in Uzbekistan would be to ensure effective access to women to health, maternity leave and cash benefits in line with provisions of Maternity Protection Convention, 1952 (No. 103). The National Gender Commission and the Ministry of Employment and Labour Relations in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance are already undertaking the next step – review of national legislation in line with up to date maternity protection standards, that is Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No.183). Up to date maternity protection standards provide for maternity benefits ensuring that women can maintain themselves and their child in health and at the suitable levels of living standards. These standards prohibit discrimination based on maternity: employers are not allowed to terminate the employment contract during pregnancy or maternity leave. Importantly, the scope of coverage with rights includes women in formal employment (both private and public sector) and women in non-standard forms of employment; while benefits are financed from worker’s and employer’s contributions as well as from general budget.