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.
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.