Include the elderly in 'family responsibility leave'‚ parliament told

15 October 2018 - 17:31
By Ernest Mabuza
Hendri Terblanche presented his arguments on why employees should be given time off work to look after their parents.
Image: © Sandra.Matic/ Hendri Terblanche presented his arguments on why employees should be given time off work to look after their parents.

There is a need to accommodate the overwhelming majority of South Africa’s workforce who perform the job of caregiver to elderly members of society and the inclusion of elder care leave in South Africa’s legislation would be a progressive step based on the lived reality of those in the country.

These views were presented by the Centre for Constitutional Rights to parliament’s select committee on petitions and executive undertakings last week. The committee was discussing Hendri Terblanche’s petition to amend the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) to include elder care leave.

Terblanche last year successfully petitioned Parliament to allow men to get more days off to take care of their newborns.

Terblanche was invited to present his arguments on why employees should be given time off work to look after their parents. This after he wrote to the National Council of Provinces saying that elder care was as important as child care.

The Centre for Constitutional Rights was also invited to present arguments on the matter. The centre had written a legal opinion on the issue‚ at the request of Terblanche.

In its opinion‚ the centre notes that the family responsibility leave contained in Section 27 of the Act stipulates that three days are available for family responsibility.

“These [family responsibility leave] days can be taken for the birth or sickness of a child‚ the death of a spouse or life partner‚ parent‚ grandparent‚ grandchild or sibling.

“The BCEA [Basic Condition of Employment Act] does not accommodate employees who are primary caregivers to older relatives… and in so doing‚ could be arguably infringing on the rights of the elderly to equality and human dignity‚” the centre said.

The centre said that in 2016‚ the African Union had adopted the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Older Persons in Africa‚ to address the care of the elderly on the African continent. It said the protocol enjoined member states to adopt policies and legislation which provided incentives to family members providing home care for older persons.

The centre said that‚ to date‚ only five out of the 55 member states had signed the protocol. South Africa was one of the 55.

The centre looked at other jurisdictions which provided support for the elderly.

It said the United States had a law which allowed employees who had an elderly parent with serious health problems to take up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per annum‚ and also offered job protection.

In Japan‚ a law allowed employees to take up to 93 days long-term family care leave. Employees could earn up to 40% of their wages while on family care leave.

“There are different names given to elder care leave and family responsibility across the globe‚ but all acknowledge that primary care for the elderly and ailing falls with an able family member.

“This acknowledgement translates to legislative inclusion to accommodate employed caregivers without putting their employment security at risk‚” the centre said.

Terblanche said the Statistics South Africa’s mid-year population estimates 2017 report had revealed a rise in the life expectancy at birth from 54.9 years in 2002 to 64 years in 2017‚ which was in line with the life expectancy at birth goal of 70 years as per the National Development Plan 2030.

“As the population in South Africa ages‚ more time needs to be devoted to take better care of our elders/senior citizens‚” Terblanche said.

The select committee will now deliberate on Terblanche’s petition and decide on a way forward.