Richard Anthony Chemaly
Another year and another set of rules to be excited about … supposedly. This time, it's fathers and paternity leave. On the face of it, indeed, yay! But what happens if we dig a little deeper?
When I was a kid our school had a teacher who had been teaching for 25 years. I learnt then that after 25 years of teaching, a teacher gets a whole term off. I was excited for that class because I assumed the kids would get the term off too, but it was not to be. Even with time off, the work needs to be done: the kids taught, decisions made, deals struck, etc. Time waits for no man (nor woman, but in context of paternity, we’re talking about men now).
Fortunately, I was in one of the most prominent schools in the province, our DStv privilege level was set at Premium and our sports fields were set at well maintained, featuring grass. Bringing in a locum or having other teachers pick up the slack wasn’t too much of an issue. Even if it was the state that paid for it, the point is that the slack needed to be picked up, and it was.
At the time, I thought, that’s pretty lekker. Twenty-five years of service does deserve some form of rest. Good on the rules! In latter years, I found myself thinking, but wait … what if the teacher didn’t use that time for rest? What if the teacher used that time to make extra money teaching elsewhere or spent three months in the forest tripping on as many drugs as they could get their hands on? Far be it from me to tell a person how to spend their leave, but the rationale for granting leave also serves a social purpose, which I think is often overlooked.
It makes sense then that when it comes to dishing out extra leave one must balance the interests of society, the individual, the child and the employer.
In respect of teachers, I figure the added leave to avoid fatigue/burnout, or perhaps just to have some form of professional appreciation and have a method of replacing the teacher, balances those interests well, but in respect of fathers, I think the rules are left wanting.
Sure, paternity leave is a great step forward and empowers fathers to spend more time supporting the mother of their child. Sure, the inclusion of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) into the equation limits added cost to the employer. Sure, this causes opportunity for many to relish extra time with their newborns.
Small businesses may suffer slightly since 10 days of absence rarely justifies the cost of finding a replacement, dealing with the HR and training them only to say bye two weeks later, though I think that’s a small cost worth absorbing for a greater good.
The tragic reality about it though is that as much as empowering fathers to be present is appreciated, we haven’t really considered any social compulsion to do good with that empowerment. Because one should also consider the societal effects and best interest of the child, I would think it would be just that the leave is made conditional on some framework of support. Though I wouldn’t pretend to know how that looks or what the practicalities of it would be, I do know that what the rules lack are some form of compulsion to suit their purposes.
Fathers can play a vital role in the raising of a child and, as any parent would know, going at it as a pair is significantly less strenuous than going at it on one’s own. To that end, I applaud the new laws.
The cynic in me, however, looks at the single-parent rate in South Africa, shrugs and sees fathers going off to play golf for 10 days or spend days crawling between pubs and shebeens. Again, who am I to tell anyone how to spend their leave, but when that leave affects the UIF coffers, small business economies and has a very deliberate purpose, I feel it right to have some expectation of how that leave should be used … and I’m disappointed that the compulsion isn’t recorded.
At least with “family responsibility leave” the term ‘responsibility’ is in there, but insofar as paternity leave goes, it just sounds like a reward for having a child, and I’m sure a not-so-insignificant number of people will take it that way.
There have always been ways to abuse the law with regard to paternity. I’ve heard stories of new parents getting a doctor’s letter claiming depression and digging into their sick leave. At least the new laws will disincentivise that and I’m certain many, if not most, fathers will take their roles seriously and put their 10 days to good use with their newborns.
I would just love to see a law come into force not simply due to its empowering abilities to let good people be good people. I would love to see laws come into force that acknowledge social issues in South Africa and take difficult yet proactive steps to address them.
Giving daddy some time off is only halfway there. Being satisfied that daddy will spend those 10 days being a father is the next challenge.
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