Call for 11 months of maternity leave
Mothers want more maternity leave.
The call was made at a recent conference at which trade unions and non-governmental organisations noted that inconsistencies and omissions in legislation and bargaining agreements made women feel punished for bearing children.
"The current legislation appears to have been written without consideration of women in the workplace. It was expected that women would be pregnant and chained to the stove," Cosatu gender forum chair Sharone Daniels said.
"The law has to change to accommodate women."
Many at the conference said the four months of leave allowed to new mothers was far too short to bond with a baby.
"We believe that the Pick n Pay model is the best in the country and we should be striving for that," Daniels said.
Pick n Pay allows 11 months of maternity leave, nine of which are paid. The retailer gives fathers eight days' paternity leave, even though labour legislation does not make specific allowance for leave for new fathers.
"If the mother and father work at Pick n Pay, they can share the maternity leave," Daniels said.
According to the Basic Employment Act, mothers are entitled to four consecutive months of maternity leave, which may begin from four weeks before the birth.
The law does not compel employers to pay workers on maternity leave, but benefits are paid to new mothers under the Unemployment Insurance Act.
If the employee has contributed to UIF, she is eligible for a maternity benefit of up to a maximum of 60% of her remuneration, depending on how much she earns.
"We have found that at Pick n Pay, the employee comes back more refreshed as her mind is at ease because the baby is bigger," Daniels said.
Makro also allows nine months of paid maternity leave.
Nina Benjamin, a programme coordinator at the Labour Research Service - which organised the conference in Cape Town - said many delegates had said they wanted longer maternity leave because there were no breastfeeding facilities in their workplace.
"There are seldom hygienic places to express or store milk, and they travel long distances . making it difficult to sustain breastfeeding."
Benjamin said many new mothers rushed back to work before four months of leave because they were unable to sustain their families on their benefits.
Durban mother Rebecca Maistry had "just got used to being a mother" when she returned to work yesterday, after four months off.
"I am not focused because I am so worried about my baby. It's heartbreaking to leave your three-month-old baby at a crèche."
Maistry said she would have loved at least two more months off.
"But I fear losing my job. I also don't think we would have survived without a full salary for a longer period. The UIF payout is not sufficient to survive for a longer time, especially with existing financial obligations and the costs of a new baby," she said.
Economist Dawie Roodt said longer maternity leave was not an option for South Africa.
"The current duration is far too much already. When the politicians start to force the employer to keep a position open for a longer period for an employee, they are essentially penalising and taxing the employer," he said.
"When UIF is being paid out for a longer period, it means someone else is paying for you to be on maternity leave."
Roodt said, though he understood the rationale behind the call for longer maternity leave, South Africa, with its unproductive economy and high unemployment rate, needed growth.
A senior policy consultant at the South African Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Pietman Roos, said if maternity leave was extended, employing women would be seen as a risk to companies.
"It's a cost factor. It would ultimately affect the chances of getting a job for all women," he said.
The International Labour Organisation recently reported that more than 800million working mothers around the world are still not adequately protected with leave and cash benefits in case of maternity. Almost 80% of these women are found in Africa and Asia.
South Africa abides by the ILO Convention 183, which states that a woman is entitled to maternity leave of no less than 14 weeks.
But the country has not taken up a recommendation to extend maternity leave to at least 18 weeks.
Sweden is the most generous when it comes to parental leave. Mothers and fathers can share 16 months at home with their baby.
Tunisia offers the shortest maternity leave of just one month.
"Maternity protection is a fundamental human right and an indispensable element of comprehensive work-family policies," the ILO said. "It is crucial to promoting maternal and child health and preventing discrimination against women in the workplace."
In South Africa, fathers may take three days of "family responsibility leave".
@TimesLive readers views
I think more time is needed, maybe six months and also flexi-time when one returns for another six months.
Longer maternity leave is not the answer. If more employers offered flexi-time then they would retain the services of experienced employees.
Lizie Mambovu Sabelo Magqabi
I wish maternity leave was a year. It is hard to leave my baby.
Six months is so long. You even forget how to do your work when you go back, and it becomes even more difficult to leave your baby.