Mothers on maternity leave need to be paid their full salary while away from work

16 October 2018 - 07:22
By palesa lebitse AND Palesa Lebitse
Nursing a newborn for four months on a fraction of your pay is difficult,   especially for those who are single mothers, says the writer.   /123RF
Nursing a newborn for four months on a fraction of your pay is difficult, especially for those who are single mothers, says the writer. /123RF

I was surprised to learn that newly elected Cosatu president Zingiswa Losi praised her predecessor S'dumo Dlamini for what she termed progressive changes to the labour legislation regarding maternity leave.

Frankly, the changes do not go far enough and Cosatu, at its recent national congress, should have agitated for further amendments to the law that will force all companies to pay 100% maternity benefits to pregnant women. The status currently is that companies are not obliged to and, as a result, many women are failed by the system.

Companies are under no legal obligation to pay employees during maternity leave; mothers must instead claim maternity benefits through the department of labour.

However, there is a cold reality of claiming through the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF): the amount mothers receive may be less than a fraction of their earnings. It is an amount that is not insufficient considering the country's daunting economic trajectory.

And although the amendment to the labour law bill increases maternity leave benefit up to 66%, the percentage remains meagre, even if it is up from the current 58%. It is meagre because the amount a mother can receive is cut drastically from her regular pay.

But, fundamentally, the 66% is not so straightforward; it is capped, depending on how much the mother earns. Currently, a they receive anything up to 58% of her salary, if they earn less than R14782.

Therefore, mothers can expect to receive R2065 per month if she earns R5000 per month. And if a mother earns above R14782, she receives only 38%.

Therefore, if you earn R14872 or more per month you will receive a maximum of R5651 from UIF. You will not receive more than this amount, it doesn't matter if you earn R30000 or R50000. It is capped. A claim from UIF also depends on how long you have been contributing to the fund.

According to UIF Mater-nity Matters, an independent company: "For every six months you have worked and contributed to the UIF, you receive one month's benefits." Therefore, "if you have been contributing for a minimum of 24 months over the past four years, you can get benefits for up to four months".

It follows that labour legislation should provide laws that will allow women to receive their full pay while on maternity leave.

Mothers need their full pay, particularly single mothers. When the issue is considered in reality, what are the chances that the average single parent will freely opt to nurse her newborn for about four months when she receives a fraction of her pay?

To begin with, just one in three children in our country live with both biological parents, according to the SA Human Rights Commission's report, South Africa's Children: A Review of Equity and Child Rights. Furthermore, the majority of households are headed by females who are as well the custodians of poverty, according to Statistics SA.

Without doubt, women are likely to raise their children as single parents which is an enormous task since the cost of parenting is so high. Mothers need their full pay. It is unfair that a mother receive a stipend when she takes maternity leave to nurse her newborn.

This sad reality continues despite the recent amendments to the labour legislation which provides for paid parental, paternity and adoption leave. This is a small victory. It will not benefit mothers directly, or single mothers at all.