JOHANNESBURG - Parliament will soon adopt legislation providing for paid parental, paternity and adoption leave. 

This is part of the most progressive amendments to the labour legislation since 1994.

The Labour Laws Amendment Bill providing for parental and adoption leave was drafted by Ms C Dudley, an ACDP Member of Parliament in response to Cosatu’s long standing call for paid paternity for fathers of new-born children.

It was also in response to a petition by a member of the public, Mr H Terblanche, who had experienced the need for fathers to be provided paternity leave when his twin boys were born prematurely.

Cosatu strongly welcomed and supported the progressive objectives of the Labour Laws Amendment Bill.

We believe that it is progressive, seeks to achieve important improvements in the lives of workers and their families and should thus be strongly supported.

Even though it was drafted by an opposition MP, Cosatu welcomed and supported it, as it would help millions of fathers and mothers and their children. We engaged the ANC on the need to support it. To the ANC MPs in the Portfolio Committee on Labour goes credit, as they warmly welcomed it.

It will make history when it is finalised by the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) as the first law drafted by an MP and more so, drafted by an opposition MP. It is testimony to the evolving nature of Parliament and the maturing of democracy, that MPs across party lines could find common ground.

Support

Cosatu strongly welcomes and supports the bill’s proposal for parents to be entitled to 10 days paid parental and paternity leave in the event of the birth of their children.

In other words, any father of a new-born child is entitled to 10 days parental leave. It will also cover a mother who has not given birth to her new-born child, eg her child was carried by a surrogate mother, or she is in a same sex partnership and it was her partner who gave birth.

This leave can be taken once a year. Employers will be entitled to ask for a copy of the birth certificate to be provided by the employee. If the parental leave is not paid for by the employer, then employees will be entitled to be paid by the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) on the same levels and thresholds as the UIF pays for maternity leave.

Currently fathers are only entitled to three days family responsibility per annum. This is quickly exhausted, as it also covers births, illnesses and deaths of family members.

It is important for society and children’s well-being for both parents to play an active role in their lives. This is especially critical during the infant stage. Mothers, who recently gave birth, often require the help of their spouse to take care of the baby as they are often still recovering from giving birth, eg caesarean sections, premature births, etc.

Society’s well-being depends upon both parents playing an active role from birth. It is thus critical towards ensuring the long-term well-being of the child.

Cosatu has campaigned for many years for all parents to be given 10 days paid leave for the birth of their children. This was also part of the recent public service negotiations. It will be separate from the three days family responsibility leave and from maternity leave.

This must only be the first step of the way towards advancing the rights of parents. In this regard, South Africa has lagged behind other countries. Cameroon offers 10 days paid paternity leave of which three are compulsory. Australia and Kenya offer 14 paid days. Sweden offers a combined 480 days leave for the parents to share. Cosatu believes that the Swedish model of 480 days is an objective that we should begin working towards as labour, business, society and government. Ten days paid parental leave is an important stepping stone towards this ideal.

Adoption leave

The bill’s objective is the provision for 10 weeks paid leave for parents when adopting children 2years old or younger.

The employee applying for adoption may be requested to provide a copy of the adoption certificate by the employer. When a couple adopts a child 2 years or younger, one parent will be entitled to 10 weeks adoption leave and the other parent will be entitled to 10 days parental leave.

If the adoption leave is not paid for by the employer, employees will be entitled to be paid by the UIF on the same levels and thresholds as the UIF pays for maternity leave.

We believe this will lay the foundation for a healthier adopted child and stronger family. Many adopted children come from traumatic backgrounds and thus need time to bond with their new families.

The Labour Laws Amendment Bill is progressive, critical and will play an important role with regards to helping society raise healthy children and strengthening the families needed to support them.

The bill is long overdue and should be welcomed by all. Cosatu strongly supports the bill and urges the NCOP to urgently pass the bill into law. It is in line with Cosatu’s long-held support for the achievement of paternity and its expansion. We believe that the Honourable Ms Dudley, MP, should be congratulated for this progressive initiative and urge all MPs to support and expand such worker friendly bills.

Arguments against providing for parental and adoption leave, such as that men do not give birth, etc, are out of date, not in line with our democratic constitution and should be dismissed as relics from the era when child rearing was left to women, who in turn were expected to be stay-at-home mothers. Such opposition is out of touch with the progressive modern caring society that Cosatu supports and which all our children deserve.

Lastly, while strongly supporting this progressive bill, we believe this is merely the first step towards achieving similar parental, maternity and adoption paid leave provisions as enjoyed by Sweden, Denmark and other progressive countries.

Matthew Parks is Cosatu’s Parliamentary Co-ordinator.

The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.

- BUSINESS REPORT