A big social problem facing South Africa is the instability of the family unit.
A lot of that is because of poverty and because there are many single parent-headed households.
The government is aware of this and has an uphill battle in dealing with the problem, but it has also failed to take the opportunity to make childbirth easier for people who are in employment – the very people who will be the foundation stones of stable families.
It is difficult to believe that a government which claims to be socialist in its outlook and for whom providing a better life for all its people is a cardinal principle, should have such a harsh attitude towards leave for new mothers and fathers.
The law, as it stands, allows women to take up to four months’ maternity leave and fathers to take 10 days’ leave.
The problem is that such time off must be unpaid – at least by the employer.
If the new mother or father wants to have their time at home with their newborn, they must go through a complex process to claim money from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). And even if they do this, their payments will be limited to two-thirds of their salary, capped at just under R18,000 a month.
This means that there is a serious financial disincentive for new parents to stay at home for as long as possible to give their child the best possible start in the world.
Progressive companies in South Africa are paying for this leave, but the vast majority stick to the letter of the law.
It is time for a rethink. The humane thing to do is to have employers pay for maternity or paternity leave. It will not bankrupt them … and the benefits to the country far outweigh any monetary loss for business.
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