By Silke Rathbone, Principal Partner, LabourExcel
Falling pregnant is, for many women, one of the most joyous times of their lives. The idea of a mini-me growing inside you is a marvel, and that the little peanut will soon be joining you in your world is an amazing feeling.
However, knowing that you will need to take up to 4 months of unpaid leave whilst you get to know your new bundle of joy can be disheartening and, of course, worrying.
The Laws around Motherhood
The tenacious lament of many mothers in South Africa does not seem to alter the fact that the government will not give us any leeway. Mothers are grouped in the same boat as all the unemployed people who also will be claiming from UIF and receiving only between 38 – 58% (capped amount of R12 478.00) of their income for the duration of their maternity leave. By now, you would think that the Department would have come up with another solution – perhaps they should consider insisting that females pay slightly more towards UIF each month in lieu of them falling pregnant. This allows them to claim 100% or as close as possible to 100% when they take their 4 months unpaid leave. The problem there is that sadly many women, even though it probably would only be a percent or two more each month, will fight against this, arguing that they may never fall pregnant, so why should they contribute more. Fair enough, I suppose.
The Right to Choice
Another solution, in my mind, is that the Department give women a choice, when they start to work, on whether they want to contribute more and a record is kept at the Department that this person has contributed more and therefore is due more than the currently prescribed 38% – 58% of their income when claiming for specifically maternity leave. They could build in a minimum contribution period in order to validify the higher payout.
However, right now, that is not the case. And, women across South Africa must either make do with the 38 – 58% from UIF for their 4 months or start to save up prior to falling pregnant or when they find out. Most times, it’s still not enough to make up the remaining 42 – 62% per month.
Maternity Leave Options
I often tell my clients that when they employ a woman they should engage with them to start up a little interest-bearing slush fund – one that can accumulate nicely ready to supplement the remaining 42 – 62% when they do go on maternity leave. And, should they not ever use it whilst working at that company or decide they will not have children, they are free to take it and do with it as they wish.
Some employers make a plan by paying the employees their full salary out of their own pocket (subject to the employee signing a workback agreement), many putting money aside for this reason from the get-go or simply finding it somewhere because they value their employees. It is not to say that the employers who don’t make a plan don’t value their employees. Many simply cannot afford to do this and have to think about still paying a temp whilst their employee is on maternity leave.
Some will, depending on the nature of the work, ask the new mother to work part-time remotely, during the fourth month of their maternity leave, thereby receiving additional remuneration that way. This can work, especially as we have all worked out ways to work remotely of late; however, it puts a great deal of pressure on the mother. Having a new baby in the house and knowing you have to work, no matter whether it’s your first time or not, can be super stressful and not ideal mentally and especially not ideal for the baby. This should be a special bonding time for mother and baby – adding work into the mix can murky the waters and make the time unbearable, even increasing the possibility of those baby-blues kicking in.
Another option is that the employer covers the 42 – 62% each month they are away and puts a repayment plan together whereby the mother can pay it back once they return (often interest-free) over a period of time.
Whatever the circumstances, I believe that the Department and employers both can make a difference here, and it should form part of their employment contracts with all female employees.
What are you doing to make a difference in the lives of the women that are working for you?
Get in touch with Silke
Cell: +27 72 018 5827
Work: +27 086 1000801
*Check out the latest edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication here.
Telephone: 086 000 9590 | Mobile: 072 126 3962 | e-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org