How maternity leave could change in South Africa: expert

 ·23 May 2021

Despite years of progress and an increased awareness surrounding gender equity in the workplace and society in general, women bare a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to childcare, says Muhammed Goolab, executive committee member of the South African Rewards Association (SARA).

This, combined with social expectations and gender stereotypes, are seen to place women at a disadvantage in the workplace, he said.

“When childcare responsibilities fall disproportionately on the mother, it impacts her career progression and can depress pay.

“Time spent outside of the workforce and other time sacrifices that are made to care for children deprive women of experience and impacts pay and promotions,” said Goolab.

South Africa’s maternity leave vs the rest of the world

South Africa’s maternity leave policies and benefits stack up well against many other countries and generally surpasses what is offered in the US. South African mothers are entitled to four months maternity leave and employees who contribute to UIF are also eligible to receive that benefit.

Some companies pay as much as 75% to 100% of a new mother’s salary while on maternity leave and if there is a shortfall, this can be claimed from the UIF.

By contrast, new mothers in the US receive 12 weeks of unpaid leave and no government assistance with regards to remuneration.

The Scandinavian countries lead the way, with up to a year’s maternity leave and 100% pay. Many of these countries also have more progressive policies. In Denmark, for example, fathers can take more than two weeks paternity leave.

“In the past, providing better maternity benefits to women was seen as a way of improving gender equity in the workplace. Today, however, there is a move towards greater paternity benefits, which is believed to help better bridge the gap,” said Goolab.

“Companies generally make their maternity leave policies easily accessible, and while maternity leave is regulated by the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, it is a good idea for employees to educate themselves on additional benefits that their employers offer.

“Often companies offer additional benefits beyond those that are outlined in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act, although accessing those benefits may require a work-back period,” he said.

What do future-focused maternity leave policies look like?

Goolab said that HR and Reward managers should take a forward-looking approach when designing maternity leave policies. The maternity leave policies of the future will seek to lessen the effect that childcare responsibilities have on mothers.

“The most effective, future-focused maternity leave policies will be completely untied to gender and they will even encourage a balance between genders.

“Some companies are looking at alternate leave structures for new parents, such as cumulative maternity leave benefits, progression in the number of leave days where parents need to take care of more than one child and reduced working hours.

“The most forward-thinking and attractive employers will also look at offering mothers returning to the workforce more flexible working arrangements that allow parents to better balance their responsibilities,” said Goolab.

An example from Volvo 

In April 2021, Volvo Cars said it will opt its employees in South Africa into an all-gender, paid parental leave policy.

The ‘Family Bond’ policy will give all employees with at least one year’s service a total of 24 weeks of leave at 80% of their base pay by default.

The policy applies to either parent and the leave can be taken anytime within the three first years of parenthood, it said.

The ‘Family Bond’ policy includes all legally registered parents, including adoptive, foster care and surrogate parents, as well as non-birth parents of same-sex couples.

Some countries do not offer any paid leave to new parents, or exclude certain groups of parents – the latter is particularly true for fathers.

Greg Maruszewski, managing director at Volvo Car South Africa, said the company is also proud to be offering its employees far more than is required by South African law.

“According to South Africa’s latest parental leave laws – which were signed into law by president Cyril Ramaphosa and took effect from 1 January 2020 – all parents (including fathers, adopting parents, and surrogates) are entitled to 10 days of unpaid parental leave when their children are born.

“Thanks to our Family Bond programme, parents employed at Volvo Car South Africa won’t only get considerably more time off work – but they will also receive compensation,” he said.

Maruszewski said that the fact that employees will receive 80% of their base pay will be especially significant to single parents in South Africa – of which there are many.

Read: The most in-demand job skills in South Africa right now

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