Why the law on maternity leave in SA is unfair

Picture: iStock

Picture: iStock

It is unrealistic for the law to expect mothers to take their full maternity leave without a salary.

I have a colleague who is almost 40 weeks pregnant, and she still comes to work every day to clean the office and make us coffee.

She loves what she does, and she is very good at it, but her work requires her to be on her feet the whole day. Luckily, we have hired a temp to take over the heavy duty work while she can sit and do the filing.

An important question, in this case, is around when is a good time to take maternity leave. Another important element of this conversation is the employer’s responsibility with regards to maternity leave.

Did you know that employers are not obliged to pay an employee during maternity leave? Our law says that new moms do not have to receive their salaries from their employers for the complete duration of their leave.

If they pay your full salary, then you are one of the very few women that do not have to stress about finances while preparing to take care of a new human being.

Picture: iStock

The financial aspect might be the very reason my colleague is still working. She went for her appointment on Monday and the doctor told her that she could give birth any day.

I usually talk to my pregnant mommies about pregnancy not being a disability. This means that we are fully capable of running the world while carrying multiple heartbeats in a single body. But we don’t have to prove anything to anyone, so it’s okay to sit at home a couple of weeks before childbirth.

Newborns shake our whole world and we need to be in a good space – physically, emotionally and spiritually. Plus, we need a lot of rest. Resting, though, is not an easy decision to make when you know you will have no source of income while you sit at home and treat your swollen feet.

The biggest shocker was her telling us that she will only be at home for a month with her newborn because she needs to come back and earn a living. Legally, she is required to take at least six weeks before she gets back to work.

I personally felt deprived of time after spending five months at home with my baby. I would have been okay with two more months (wishful thinking).

My previous company was covering a small portion of my salary during my maternity leave, and the rest of the money was received from the department of labour, which is another process on its own.

Is the system flawed, or do moms put themselves under unnecessary financial pressure?

Image: iStock

Imagine how many single moms work in jobs that don’t pay them a salary during maternity leave, and imagine how many of those are back at work a few weeks after their children are born. Those few weeks of new human life are critical and stressful. The last thing mothers need to worry about is money.

My colleague still has a genuine fear of staying home and she still walks around the office taking coffee orders. This is crunch time for her, and self-care is very important. Legally, women can take leave up to six weeks before the baby’s due date. They are entitled to four months’ maternity leave.

A lot of women push to take their maternity leave later in their pregnancy so that they can spend more time with the baby, rather than to sit around at home and wait for the baby’s birth.

SA law protects the rights of pregnant women, but to what extent is this regarded fair/moral practice? Is it fair for a woman to stay without a salary for three or four months while at home?

I feel that the law is on the side of the employer. It is unrealistic for the law to expect mothers to take their full maternity leave without a salary. It is equally unrealistic to think that these women can fully rely on the government’s subsidy when some moms wait over a year for this money.

Someone needs to re-look this condition of employment and come up with a better alternative.

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