Maternity leave is a vacation which women take when they are expecting a baby or they just had one. This employee benefit is available in almost all countries, and it aim is to provide a woman with a paid leave to care for the newborn.
However, there are countries that only provide unpaid leave. The duration of maternity leave is different in various countries. For example, in the UK, the duration of maternity leave is 52 weeks, while paternity leave is just two weeks, or 26 weeks if the child's mother had to return to work before the end of maternity leave.
Maternity leave duration in Nigeria
Before Nigerian women who work in the government or private sector were entitled to take twelve weeks of paid maternity leave. But recently, maternity leave for those women who work in the Federal public service was extended to 16 weeks (and this leave is also fully paid). However, this law does not yet cover women who work in the private sector because it still hasn't passed by the State.
If the National Assembly pass the law, it will also mean that women working in the private sector can take 16 weeks of maternity leave.
Maternity leave policy in Nigeria
The Labour law states that a pregnant woman can begin taking her maternity leave 6 weeks before the delivery date and 6 weeks after the baby is born – in total, the female worker gets 12 weeks of maternity leave. The law also provides that if a woman had been working for the establishment for at least six months before taking a leave, she has a right to get at least 50% of the salary which she should have earned if she was present at work.
Conditions of maternity leave in Nigeria says that every worker who is nursing a child has the opportunity to take 30 minutes twice per working day to nurse the child. If the woman is not able to return to work immediately after the maternity leave is over due to her health condition after childbirth, the employer has no right to fire her.
Although the Labour law's attempts to protect female workers from discrimination is commendable, its terms are, however, limited in capacity especially regarding workers in the private sector. Their working relationship is regulated by conditions of the contracts they sign with their employers.
The parties that signed the contract have to obey its terms and Nigeria strictly adheres to the principles of freedom of contracts. This means that, if a woman signs a contract with the employer where the company specifies that they do not provide maternity leave for women, there is nothing the court can do in such a situation, since the contract was signed by the employee voluntarily.
Nigeria is a signatory to the Convention on Maternity Protection, a universal Labor Organization treaty. This treaty guarantees employment for pregnant and nursing women, as it prohibits the dismissal of a pregnant woman. It additionally ensures a guaranteed period of four months of legal maternity leave and also a right for female workers to keep the salary and the positions that they occupied before delivery.
However, the agreement was not domesticated in our National Assembly. Therefore, the agreement and its terms and conditions are not applicable to Nigerian female workers.
We hope that Nigeria will ratify the agreement in the near future and will help female workers in Nigeria, regardless the sector they work in.