Maternity laws on the right path

Despite the negative publicity caused by political instability and economic meltdown that Zimbabwe has been receiving for more than a decade, not all is lost. Outside the doom and gloom of battling for survival, there are a number of things that Zimbabweans can pat themselves on the back about. One of them is maternity laws for working women.

Zimbabwe is one of the countries in the world where women get at least three months paid leave when they are pregnant, provided they have been working for the same employer for at least a year. Moreover, women are also entitled to breastfeeding breaks or daily reduction of hours of work.

However, as I sadly discovered in South Africa, paid maternity leave is not provided for under the law. A former work colleague of South African nationality told me of her maternity leave battle and I realised that, in this regard, Zimbabwe is miles ahead.

Pregnant with her first child, this woman had no idea what would come with challenges on the work front. Under South African law, female employees are entitled to four months maternity leave when.

But, under the same law, employers are not obliged to pay women who take maternity leave. As a result, working pregnant women are remunerated via the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF). As my former colleague, who is a single mother, later found out, the UIF does not pay immediately.

After filing her papers, she had to go two months without a salary. Her pay out only came in the third month. This can seem like a lifetime for someone with new responsibilities – that include a baby. That’s not all, the UIF does not pay the full salary. It only pays between 38% and 58%.

“During the two months that I was waiting for my UIF pay out, I had accumulated so much debt that the fraction of my salary I eventually received became a joke. I suppose if you have a partner then it’s a different ball game because he can meet some of the expenses. In my case, I am the sole provider for my daughter and myself. I was quite unprepared for this and had no savings to carry me through this difficult time,” she explained.

As if that was not enough, when she returned to work she found out that although she still retained the same title and salary, her responsibilities had been massively cut – because of the cut-throat industry that she works in.

She was left with only the simplest of responsibilities because of the disruption to her career caused by her pregnancy. She felt completely alienated and powerless at the direction her career was taking. Frustrated, she found a new job and moved on.

One of the countries with the best maternity laws is Sweden, which is very advanced in women's rights and overall standard of living. Female employees are entitled to 56 weeks of maternity leave while getting paid 80% of their salaries.

According to the 2014 International Labour Organisation on Maternity and Paternity at Work, the standard is 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. And many countries have met or exceeded this standard. According to the same report, more than 100 countries now finance maternity benefits – although analysis has shown that most of these are neither financially adequate nor sufficiently long lasting.

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