My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

I have one month left at work until I have to go on maternity leave, I say have to because apparently I do not have a choice in the matter. Let me explain – like most of the companies in the fashion industry the company I work for has a shut-down period from 19 December 2014 until about 14 January 2015 in which we all have to take our annual leave that we have built up throughout the year, my plan was to work up until the last day when we would all break up (I would be 38 weeks pregnant). To me this meant more time with my baby after birth. I was however informed that, by law, I have to go on maternity leave at 36 weeks, that’s an entire month before my due date and means that I have only three months maternity leave left after my baby is born.

The maternity leave issue has been bugging me for a while now. According to the Basic Employment Act, mothers are entitled to four consecutive months of maternity leave – first off, even if your maternity leave only kicks in after the birth of your baby, four months is not nearly enough time to bond with a newborn (you can read my article on bonding with my first child here). Secondly, I am one of the many unlucky women who will not be receiving a salary from my company during this time. Luckily our baby was planned and we have been fortunate enough to make provisions, but it is still going to be a major financial setback for us. Many women cannot afford to not receive a salary for that amount of time and are thus forced to go back to work earlier. You can claim from UIF, but the amount you receive is nothing short of a joke… at least it is better than nothing I suppose. I have asked the opinions of a couple of South Africans through various social media network platforms as well as forums – most of the feedback is pretty much on par with how I feel, but some of the comments just blew my f*#@! mind.

According to Economist Dawie Roodt – longer maternity leave is not an option for South Africa. “The current duration is far too much already. When the politicians start to force the employer to keep a position open for a longer period for an employee, they are essentially penalizing and taxing the employer,” –  I wonder if Mr Roodt has children, or how long his wife took maternity leave (if she works at all). He then went on to make the following statement – “When UIF is being paid out for a longer period, it means someone else is paying for you to be on maternity leave.” Okay, I understand, but I am paying for some asshole in Pollsmoore Prison to receive a meal and a bed every night for killing/raping/murdering/stealing or whatever. I am also paying for my president to build lavish homes (Nklandla) and for his wives to go on insane designer shopping sprees. I am paying towards a government that is crumbling and that has become a source of comic relief to us. Surely, paying me UIF is a small price to pay compared to all the money we fork out that seems to disappear into thin air.

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

A senior policy consultant at the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pietman Roos, said if maternity leave was extended, employing women would be seen as a risk to companies. “It’s a cost factor. It would ultimately affect the chances of getting a job for all women,” he said. I’m sorry, does that not constitute as discrimination?? Why are we being punished for having babies?

Many women referred to the Pick n Pay model which allows eleven months of maternity leave, nine of which are paid. The retailer gives fathers eight days’ paternity leave, even though labour legislation does not make specific allowance for leave for new fathers. If the mother and father both work at Pick n Pay, they can share the maternity leave. That is amazing – why did I not go work for them?? Makro is not far behind, offering employers nine months paid maternity leave.

South Africa abides by the ILO Convention 183, which states that a woman is entitled to maternity leave of no less than 14 weeks, but the country has not taken up a recommendation to extend maternity leave to at least 18 weeks.

Sweden is the most generous when it comes to parental leave – mothers and fathers can share 16 months at home with their baby.

At least we are not in Tunisia, which offers the shortest maternity leave of just one month.

In short:

Issue #1: Four Months Is Not Enough Time

Four months is not nearly enough time with your new baby, and it is definitely not enough time for your body to heal. It took about 2-years for my body to get back to normal after I had our daughter – I am not at all saying we need two years maternity leave, but you can imagine how much strain it will put on your body going back to work after just three/four months. Most moms suggested that six months would be sufficient time for them while others brought up the models of Canada and Sweden which allows parents to take up to a year maternity leave to be split between parents as they see fit. You also get those superhuman beings like Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo who went back to work only two weeks after giving birth to her first child, but I am not going to give my personal opinion on that one. I feel like after four months you are just getting used to being a mom, and then you have to leave your baby and go to work… it is quite cruel. Needless to say, this becomes more tricky if you have a premature baby or if your baby is seriously ill.

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

 Issue #2: Breast Is Best?

Our country goes above and beyond to promote breastfeeding for as long as possible and mothers are shamed and looked down upon for turning to formula, but in all honesty – do we have a choice? I have never worked for or even heard of a company in South Africa where there were any breastfeeding or pumping facilities, never mind breats milk storage facilities. I remember when I had Mikayla my only choice was to sit in a unisex bathroom and pump, which for hygienic reasons weren’t feasible – I could also just imagine how people would freak out if I stored my breast milk next to their lunch in the fridge. Some moms are comfortable sitting in a boardroom or a breakroom pumping, I am not – the thought that someone can walk through the door at any second stresses me out. Stress and breast milk supply do not go well together. Some mothers master the art of pumping and can exclusively pump for their babies outside of working hours, unfortunately my milk supply has never been enough to do that and I had to switch to formula soon after I returned to work to meet my baby’s demands (believe me, I tried every tonic and milk supply booster you can imagine). I am trying to remain positive, but that will probably be the case with little Knox as well. I do not feel like I have a choice.

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

Issue #3: Baby Care

I have yet to find a daycare that I would or could leave my son at 3 months old… Most daycares only take babies from six month onwards. I am lucky enough to have my mother-in-law around, but not everyone has that luxury. How can you return to work and not be comfortable about leaving your baby somewhere… how can you concentrate at work or give 100% when your mind is occupied by the most important thing in your life being in the care of someone you do not know? It’s heartbreaking to leave your three-month-old baby at a crèche. I believe companies should strive to create daycare facilities at work.

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

Issue #4: Affordability

I am not an unreasonable person, I completely understand that many small companies cannot afford to pay their employees four-six months maternity leave, but I do not work for a small company and I am still not getting a cent. Many moms rush back to work before four months of leave because they are unable to sustain their families on their benefits.… there is no way that I could live off the money that UIF is willing to pay out to me. I feel that we pay so much towards tax, PAYE, UIF and whatever other nonsense… so much towards a system that is completely and utterly flawed. The UIF payout should be more, shouldn’t it? Also, there should be some sort of a system where bigger companies are judged on and should legally be paying you a percentage of your salary? What do you think? They should at least cover a portion of your maternity leave, whether it is a month or two paid or whether it is a percentage every month. Once again, are we being punished for having babies?

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

 Issue #5: Paternity Leave

In South Africa we do not have Paternity leave per say, we have what they call Family Responsibility Leave which entitles a father to three days off work…. Three days. My husband has decided to take one week and see how it goes from there. He is self employed and has this luxury but, he said he does not know how he would handle not being able to spend some time with his new born child, three days is just pathetic. It is just as important for a father to bond with his child, also, in the event of a cesarean who is going to help mom at home?

My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

Issue #6: People Who Can’t or Won’t Have Kids and Their Senseless Arguments

I had a couple of responses from men and women who do not wish to or cannot have children, who state that four months maternity leave is “way too much” and unfair towards them as they should also be offered four months leave of some sorts. To these men and women, it is extremely obvious that you do not have children or can’t even comprehend what it is like – maternity leave is not a holiday. First and foremost, you are recovering from a medical condition. Secondly, you do not get to sleep in, relax or have loads of time for yourself… there will be days where your husband comes home to find you on the couch with your baby in your arms, covered in baby vomit, breast milk and drool – sobbing because you have not had the time to change out of your pajamas or have a shower in the past couple of days. Thirdly, maternity leave is a time to invest in your family’s future.

Know Your Rights – Maternity Leave and the Law:

  • As a mom you’re entitled to at least four consecutive months maternity leave. Maternity leave could start four weeks before the expected date of birth. If you get ill while working, you could, on medical advice, take maternity leave earlier and for longer if necessary.
  • No employee may be expected to work for the first six weeks after the birth of her baby. A medical practitioner or midwife may, however, certify that you’re fit to work.
  • If you have suffered a miscarriage during the third trimester of pregnancy or your child is stillborn, you are entitled to maternity leave for six weeks after the miscarriage or stillbirth, whether or not you were on maternity leave at the time of the miscarriage or stillbirth.
  • Your employer is not legally obliged to pay you during your maternity leave period unless the company’s policy, a collective agreement, or your employment contract provides for paid maternity leave.
  • If your maternity leave is unpaid, you would be able to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund UIF for up to 17 weeks (four months).
  • If an employer refuses to allow an employee to return to work after she’s taken maternity leave to which she was entitled, the law regards this as dismissal. Furthermore, it’s unfair dismissal. The law states that dismissal on account of an employee’s pregnancy, intended pregnancy, or any reason related to the pregnancy amounts to an automatically unfair dismissal.

What is your opinion on maternity leave in South Africa? How would you like to improve it?

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45 thoughts on “My Issues with Maternity Leave in South Africa

  1. I think the UIF amount is ridiculous. It is limited to the UIF limit of about R12000 and then on top of that it is on a sliding scale based on income. The only was to get 100% is if you earn about R1000 pm. If you earn say R25000 you’ll only get R4000 ish. How are, who used to earn R25k and have expenses to that level expect to survive on R4k with added baby costs? I think the UIF should pay a full salary up to the amount you have contributed. I’d been working for 10yrs before having my son so over the years I’d contributed more than 4months of my salary. I should be able to access that!! Employers would have less issue with longer leave if they didn’t have the financial burden. So I believe the UIF should step up and give proper financial support!

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  2. Thank you for your article. I found it quite interesting and as a future mom to be, I am in awe about the crisis in SA regarding maternity leave. This makes me scared to even have a child. In addition, as a psychologist, I fully agree that 4 months is insufficient to bond with your child especially when the mom is preoccupied with having to deal with financial stress. it takes at least 2 years to form a secure emotional attachment with a child. Children who are abruptly left in strangers care ( without gradually preparing them) may have anxiety and relationship issues later in their adulthood. 4 months personally would feel like just getting used to this new adjustment! I think a petition would be a good idea but we need to understand that we need to take action as a collective. All the best and don’t forget to take time out to embrace your happiness of your little bundle of joy.

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  3. I had 5 weeks total. I went off work the friday and had the cesarian the next weekwednesday. I had after that 4 weeks with my new baby, then I HAD ro go back to work seeing I am a contract employee meaning no work no pay. I had pretty much no time with my son and I had to search dor a daycare that would take a one month old

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  5. Such an interesting article.
    I am so shocked at the short maternity leave granted in SA, paid or unpaid. I applied for a 5th month as part of my annual leave, then requested an additional 6th UNPAID month (I am lucky in that I have saved enough to do this, a luxury not everyone can afford) but our CEO declined those two months saying I’m too senior to take all that time off. But other employees have got a full 5 months… So it seems like being in a more senior position counts against you?! And that’s coming from a CEO with children herself. After being employed by this company for 4 years it seems that hard work and loyalty does not pay off.
    I will definately be sharing this article and hopefully one day things will change for the better!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I completely agree. I was in the same boat as you – I was also in a senior position and my application for longer leave was declined – I ended up resigning as my son was a month premature and I could not bare to leave him at 3 months old! I really do hope we will see a change for the better… We should not be punished for wanting families.

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  6. How about you start your own company… Then hire a bunch of people… Let’s say 50 percent female and 50 percent male. Then let all the female staff take 6 months paid leave at different times even while you pay and train someone else the same or more to cover the work they should have been doing how long do you think you will keep your doors open? I’m all for uif paying a bit more but I don’t see why the financial burden of your choices should be imposed on people or companies who are not responsible for them.

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      • No thank you. How about business owners learn how to manage their companies properly? As long as you plan ahead and it is well managed, maternity leave really should not be a problem for your business. Yes it is maybe inconvenient, but a woman should not be punished for wanting a family. My parents are both business owners, so believe me – i understand (point 4 in my article). This blogpost is aimed at our failire of a government as well as big companies who seldomly have their employees wellbeing at heart. I am going to assume that you do not have children, as no parent will make such an heartless statement. If you are… Well, then I’m rather going to walk away from the conversation.

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  7. Well said!

    With my first born I had birth complications and spent 6 weeks of my 12 week maternity leave in hospital. Then another 3 weeks in bed recovering at home. I could not extend my maternity leave. I had very little bonding time with him and this was very sad.

    Also with regards to UIF, they only pay you 45% of a capped amount last time I checked that amount was R12 000. Could be more now, yet when you pay UIF you pay a percentage of your whole salary not only up to that amount.

    Makes no sense at all…..

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  8. I was very blessed to work for an amazing company in SA that helped me have 6 months at home with my baby and lots of flexibility thereafter. Thank you McKinsey & Company!

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  9. What a great topic and so relevant to me since I’m currently on maternity leave (10 weeks already gone 😦 )
    Never before have I considered resigning as much already as I have in the last few weeks!
    I’m fortunate enough that we get 4 months fully paid maternity leave, however 4 months is just not enough, as I discovered after the birth of my first child! I was determined to extend my maternity by 2 months this time around, but was told that even though I’m choosing to take the additional 2 months as unpaid, I would not be allowed to unless, firstly I take all my annual leave (which I didn’t want to, because what happens if I need to take leave for an emergency and don’t have any days available?) & secondly my position would have to be evaluated because if they could ‘afford’ to not have me there for 6 months then why should i even be there at all (this coming from a female HR).
    The only way for me to ‘extend’ my maternity leave would be for me to take my 24 days annual leave followed by 20 days (maximum allowed by company) of unpaid leave and I would not be able to receive uif during the unpaid period as this would be ‘my choice’.
    Feeling so frustrated now because it seems like the time is just flying by and I’m not even remotely ready to go back to work yet … 6 weeks left with my baby 😦

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    • It’s disgusting. What a poor choice of words from hr as well!! I know what you mean… I have less than a month left and with every passing day my heart breaks. My boy was a month premature and still needs me… He is still so tiny 😦

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  10. I am fortunate enough to work for the government, which entitles me to 4 months fully paid maternity leave. I dont know how moms working in private pay for living costs during their maternity leave if companies dont pay them. Its sad 😦 4 months isnt nearly enough time with a new baby

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  12. Hi there. For some reason this issue you have been having regarding your maternity and annual leave has been on my mind since I read it ages ago. I recently spoke to our labour consultant (because we will be have the same thing happen to an employee of ours, and we are also in the fashion industry), and you are still entitled to your paid annual leave, even though your maternity leave happens at the same time. I am not sure if you managed to get it sorted out with your work though? Also, you can work right up until you are due to give birth, you don’t HAVE to take 4 weeks before your due date. What happens if your due date is delayed by 2 weeks?! Then you have even less time with your new one. I do hope that you get what you are owed, and don’t let your boss bully you into believing otherwise. If you need any help, please give me a shout 🙂

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    • Thank you Tami, that is so unbelievably sweet of you! In the end my baby decided to come a month early so in a way it worked out. I just hate that some business owners feel that they own you and that they can bend the law to suit themselves!

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    • What about if you are on maternity leave, are you still entitled to your annual bonus…or is it up to the big boss if he wants to give it to you or not?

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      • They are not allowed to not give you a bonus due to the fact that you are pregnant, by law that is discrimination. Unfortunately, how do you prove that being pregnant is the reason that you did not get a bonus? I did not get mine, unfortunately there is nothing I can do about it. My boss was not the kindest of people, hopefully yours is.

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      • Yes it would be up to your boss to decide if you are to get a bonus. I think most would still give a bonus, but its not compulsory for them.

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  13. I think at the end of the day if they make the maternity leave 9 months and it is unpaid most employees will still return after 3 or 4 months due to financial reasons.

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    • That is why I suggested that companies should be ranked due to size/growth/financial stability and be binded by law to pay out a percentage of the salary, or UIF should pay out a bigger sum. Also, the choice will be there. At least give people the option.

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  14. I could not have said this any better! I am currently 29 weeks pregnant, have about 12 days Annual Leave left for the year which I would like to take in December, which my boss deliberately ignores, or refuses to approve (both I presume). I’m due 19 January 2015, therefore I would like to be home resting during December, and not at work, killing time since its the most unproductive month of the year at our company anyway. So why not just approve my leave? i swear he thinks i’m exaggerating in terms of all the aches and pains and everything else thats comes with pregnancy. My first pregnancy with my daughter was fairly easy,this time around, however, things are not that simple. I’ve experienced anxiety attacks and all other sorts of stresses, but again, we’re probably just hormonal drama queens in the eyes of our male bosses. Yet the minute he has the slightest headache at work, he NEEDS to go home/work from home…LOL! (how does that even compare to 9 MONTHS of pregnancy?!). I suggest that more women are placed in position of power (preferably mothers who are able to relate), thus having empathy in terms of what we women experience, in turn, GLADLY granting us leave, especially at companies (like mine), who CAN afford to have 1 out of the hundreds of employees working here, granted Maternity Leave.#shakingmyhead #thiscountryhey

    LOVE this post!

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  15. I myself am not a mom, but I agree that the time given to spend with a newborn is not enough. And I agree with your bit about how we are robbed of our hard-earned money to subsidise our “president” and his numerous wives (and kids!) while we have to live mediocre existences so they can live in luxury

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  16. This is a huge issue. I have the two-edged sword of being self-employed. On one hand, I can tailor my own maternity leave. On the other, no work means no pay. So UIF would have been a life-saver if that were enough.

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  17. I loved reading your blog and agree with everything you and Steph said. I had 5 kids and was lucky enough to stay at home with all of them. Firstly for 6 months after you have given birth your brain is in baby mode, and I think still porridge brain and any work you do will not be to the best of your ability . Secondly anyone who hasn’t had a baby, and first time mom’s, don’t realise the emotional attachment you have with this tiny little human and to think of leaving it with a stranger or even family would be the same as removing your heart and leaving it with someone o take care of. In fact removing your heart would be less painful. Thirdly fathers should be given more time to bond with their baby and to help mom and older siblings cope with the new baby.
    Employers should realise that to get the mot out of their workers they need to make them happy and to make their hours more flexible and if possible allow them to work on line from home. As I said I had 5 kids and even when they were older I would have battled to leave them with others. I think the parents of our country, dads included should take this further. If they tackle it as a combined force, maybe it will be better for future generations

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    • Hi Bev, I am so glad you are enjoying my blog! Thank you for your comment – I truly wish I had the option of staying home, If I could I would definately have five kids myself! I agree that parents should take a stand… I wonder how to go about doing something like that, maybe even starting a petition.

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  18. Wow you are spot on. I had a baby last year and I agree with every single point you have made! The policy on maternity leave in SA is shocking and needs to change. I only realised once i had my son that 4 months is waaaay too short. I worked for a large national company and was shocked to find out i would receive no pay while on maternity leave… my whole pregnancy and maternity leave I was stressed about finances and how we would cope. i do think large companies should pay a portion of our salaries, or UIF needs to pay more. something needs to change, but I’m not sure it will!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The worst is trying to get past that financial pressure – even after maternity leave. It has a knock on effect on the whole family. I am so glad you like the post and congratulations on your little one! Maybe if enough people got involved, things could change for our children when they are all grown up…

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      • How would you suggest that we get involved? I’d like to do something to promote a change, but not sure what? Four months is not nearly enough.. and now I juggle work with sleep deprivation and awkward pumping breaks in whatever space is available in our mostly open-plan offices. The fact that my baby is also fighting drinking from a bottle, does nothing to relieve my stress at being away from him and assist me in being a productive employee. There are no child care facilities at work, and I cannot go to my child for feedings – which takes 10minutes max, whereas I pump for a minimum of 45 minutes to pump ny substantial amount. I am fortunate in that I had paid maternity leave though.

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  19. Well said. I do believe we should get more than the 4 months we currently get. My little boy will be 3 months on 12 November and two weeks later I’ll have to go back to work. Not nearly enough time to bond.

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  20. I couldn’t have written this better myself!

    I attached my annual leave to the four months I took with Landon and five months still wasn’t enough. Too many working mom’s are distraught by the idea of leaving their newborns to return to work. Because that’s what they are… newborns.

    And as for those ignorant non-parents who say our maternity leave is too long… My blood is boiling! It’s not a vacation. It’s not easy, comfy and relaxing. It’s taxing, overwhelming and stressful!

    Sharing this straight away!

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