Working mothers entitled to paid breastfeeding breaks

New mothers in Norway are now entitled to paid breaks to breastfeed their babies. Although collective agreements in some sectors already guaranteed this right, new legislation that came into force on 1 January 2014 extends it to all working mothers. The right to take breastfeeding breaks has been guaranteed by labour legislation since the 1950s, but employers have not been obliged to pay workers who take them. The objective of the new law is to improve the income security of new mothers.

Background

The right to breastfeeding breaks has guaranteed by labour legislation since the 1950s, although employers have been left to decided whether working mothers who take them should be paid or not.

The right to paid breastfeeding breaks, however, is already established in some segments of the labour market through collective agreements. For instance, in 2009 all public sector workers were given the right to two hours of paid breaks per full working day, with no limit on the age of the child being breastfed. In the private sector, 95% of workers covered by collective agreements had the right to paid breaks, with mothers being generally allotted one hour of paid breastfeeding breaks per full working day during the child’s first year. Such agreements obliged the employer to pay for the breaks.

In March 2013, in Changes in the Work Environment (wages during breastfeeding breaks) (in Norwegian, 193 KB PDF), the Norwegian government set out its proposal to make paid breatfeeding breaks a universal right. The bill was passed by parliament later in 2013, and The Working Environment Act, §12-8 (in Norwegian) and came into effect on 1 January 2014. The new legislation does not affect or alter any existing arrangements stipulated in collective agreements.

The policy was a part of a push by the former centre-left government to ensure that responsibility for the care and nurturing of young children would be more evenly split between mothers and fathers. At the time, this government introduced the right to 59 weeks of parental leave paid at 80% of the individual’s usual income, and put significant emphasis on the need for fathers to take a larger share of the parental leave entitlement.

The policy

The parliamentary report Equal opportunities for equal pay (in Norwegian, 2.3 MB PDF) said that paid breastfeeding breaks were intended to make it possible for mothers to work during their child’s first year, and to continue breastfeeding, without losing income. The hope was that the policy would maintain a high rate of labour market participation among working mothers. This would also make it possible for fathers to take a larger proportion of parental leave and so contribute to a more equal distribution of parenting duties within the family. It was also hoped that employers would increasingly expect both fathers and mothers to take leave following the birth of a child, lessening the potential labour market difficulties faced by women.

The government’s note on the Financial and administrative implications of the proposal (in Norwegian) predicted that the policy would affect approximately 8,500 women, taking about 25–50 hours off work to breastfeed over an estimated five to ten weeks. Incorporating the right into law would ensure the inclusion of mothers employed in segments of the labour market with low unionisation rates. However, the law does stipulate that to qualify for the paid breaks, a new mother should already be working a minimum of seven hours a day.

Social partners’ reactions

The main trade union confederation, the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO), has successfully negotiated paid breastfeeding breaks in collective agreements, and supported their extension to workers not covered by such agreements and non-unionised workers. However, LO has expressed concern that freelancers, independent entrepreneurs and those with combined incomes will not be able to benefit from the change.

The dominant employers’ organisation, the Confederation of Norwegian Enterprise (NHO), supported the rationale behind the policy but has criticised the obligation placed on employers to foot the bill for breastfeeding breaks. Employers’ organisation Virke argued that employers might decide not to accept the higher costs associated with employing women and choose to hire men instead for practical and economic reasons.

Magnus Mühlbradt, Fafo

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