New baby blues – maternity leave can leave you in financial trouble
While maternity and paternity leave are both guaranteed under law, it is up to your employer to decide whether or not they pay you.
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For some South Africans, the joys of bringing a new life into the world can be ruined by company policies which often leave new parents financially strained.
While maternity and paternity leave are both guaranteed under law, it is up to your employer to decide whether or not they pay you. This means some people face serious financial challenges when it’s time to welcome their newborns.
The revised parental leave benefits which grants fathers ten days paternity leave came into effect from 1 January 2020 with great fanfare, and fathers hoped to be a part of their babies’ first few days on earth.
The joy was short-lived though, because, like maternity leave for new mothers, many companies offer no benefits during the time off. This potentially financially disastrous situation also happens to be completely within the law.
Under the Basic Condition of Employment Act, mothers and fathers are entitled to at least four consecutive months and ten consecutive days’ maternity leave respectively. It is, however, up to individual companies’ own policies on whether they pay their employees or not during that period, said labour advocate Alexia Vosloo-DeWitt.
“The law states maternity and paternity leave is unpaid, period. But the company policy will determine whether it is nice enough to offer paid leave. Some pay about 50% of your salary or 75%. If they don’t, the onus is on the company to assist in filling in the correct forms to claim from the unemployment insurance fund (UIF),” she said.
Since the beginning of 2019, UIF had upped the pay-out from 38% of the claimed salary to 66%. This was capped to a salary of R17,712.
Even if an employee earned a R100,000 monthly salary, they would still receive 66% of the capped amount, explained Stephanie DuPlooy, owner of Little Monkey, a company which aids expectant mothers on UIF maternity leave claims.
While frustrations might be expressed towards the tedious claiming process, the issue went back to the employer, with many not complying with employee UIF declarations.
Only three out of ten mothers who had applied for their claims through Little Monkey had employers who were compliant, DuPlooy explained.
“If your employers are not compliant and make wrong declarations, it influences your claim negatively. It’s a huge problem in South Africa that employers are not complying. They either don’t declare people at all, or deduct UIF and probably pay to Sars. The thing is that companies are misinformed about the process. They think by declaring to Sars then their job is done. Declarations must be made to both Sars and the UIF.”
Morongwa Moima, says working for a contractor is an example of how getting pregnant can ruin your finances. This meant no-work, no-pay.
“So, I had to apply at the UIF. Fortunately the process was done in a matter of days and I managed to get paid. But it wasn’t enough though. The father of my child had opted to not take his paternity leave because it was unpaid,” she said.
But many other companies had preferred to pay their staff while they were at home with their newborn, preventing stresses of UIF claims.
Volvo South Africa had last year joined the Swedish car’s global initiative of a paid six-month parental leave offer, which saw mothers and fathers earning 80% of their monthly income. This was also applicable to same-sex parents and those who had adopted.
The initiative was well received in the company and industry, said Volvo spokesperson Charmagne Mavudzi.
“So far, one family in the company has benefited from this and it has been very positive. This is part of our long-term plan to be positioned as an employer of choice. We not only look at current beneficiaries at Volvo, but also consider future employees who might want to start families,” she said.
Expectant father Xolani Khubeka, who works for Absa, said he was in the process of applying for his ten-day paid paternity leave.
“My full salary is going to be paid,” he said.
Gaopalelwe Phalaetsile, a journalist who recently returned to work from maternity leave, was given her full income including the usual December bonus.
“It was very swift. I was shocked. They gave me four months paid maternity leave but there was also an option to take another two months, which would be unpaid.”
Another journalist, who asked to remain anonymous, however, works for a company where paternity leave is completely unpaid. He decided that losing ten days’ income was simply not possible, and thus opted out of taking paternity leave.
“I don’t think it is worth it to take 10 days’ unpaid leave. I would have considered it if I had a very large income and not being paid for 10 days of the month would probably not affect me financially. I really can’t afford getting paid for 10 days less though.”
Male employees questioning the need to take the offered ten-day paternity leave was a common occurence, said Elray David, national health sector coordinator for education and gender at the Health and Other Services Personnel Trade Union of South Africa (Hospersa).
The opportunity for men to bond with their newborn baby was what unions had fought for, she said.
Hospersa was now in the process of ensuring new mothers receive a mandatory minimum pay from their employers, she said.
“We are in the process of fighting for paid maternity leave as a minimum for all women, and not that the leave be unpaid and claimed from the UIF. The ultimate goal is being a seamless transition for women out and back into the workplace without any consequences for giving birth.”
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