Survey finds maternity leave disadvantages women

Remchannel research shows companies need to undertake a critical review of current workplace practices.

The survey was conducted during 2021 and found that while 60 percent of the Employee Benefits survey participants provided fully paid maternity leave for the minimum required four-month period, 24 percent indicated that an employee would not receive a salary during her maternity leave.

Remchannel managing director René Richter says the 24 percent amounted to a regression of seven basis points since 2019 and could in part be due to the economic challenges faced by South Africa over several years and the effects of Covid-19.

René says the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) makes provision for both paid and unpaid maternity leave, and the choice is defined by each company’s maternity leave policy. The Act also makes provision for female employees to claim UIF during the period; however, it is only a portion of an employee’s remuneration.

As it is, women already earn less than their male counterparts. According to United Association of SA, South Africa had a stagnant median gender pay gap of between 23 percent and 35 percent, despite various pieces of legislation aimed at preventing gender discrimination in the workplace, and the Covid-19 pandemic has increased the projected time to close the pay gap from 99.5 years to 135.6 years.

On International Women’s Day, the Federation of Unions of SA echoed concerns around the disparity and in a statement said that, “In South Africa, women earn up to 35 percent less than men for doing work of equal value yet nearly 38 percent of households are dependent on the income that a woman brings home. Even highly educated and qualified middle-class women, especially those working in the private sector, are still finding it difficult to escape gender pay disparity as the old boys’ network still favours their male counterparts.”

Consequences for mothers
René says, “It’s important to understand that many organisations, in following the letter of the law, are not fully aware of unintended consequences. Unpaid maternity leave places a major financial burden on the family unit at a time when it is crucial to have access to these funds.”

She adds that the effect of this is that the family would probably need to obtain loans, which has a lasting impact on financial recovery.

“As the major caregiver, it also, by implication, means that more than one pregnancy in a woman’s career will impact financial wellbeing, as well as career progression over a period of time,” she added.

Global research indicates that about 50 percent of women feel that their careers were negatively impacted due to pregnancy. According to the 2021 PWC Women in Work Study, progress for women in the workplace regressed to 2017 levels due to Covid-19 which saw a large number of women leave formal employment. It also found that only five percent of chief executives are women and the gender pay gap is most pronounced in the top JSE-listed companies.