File photo: Bob Strong/Reuters.
Vehicle manufacturer Volvo’s paid gender-neutral parental leave policy that was recently launched in South Africa has been described as a “progressive” step towards gender equity in the workplace.

Volvo said the perk not only provides fathers with more time off work to care for children, it also allowed the working careers of women to flourish because the child care burden is not placed solely on their shoulders.

From May 1, Volvo South Africa employees who have been with the company more than a year could look forward to six months’ leave with 80% pay when a child enters their lives.

It will be offered, not only to mothers and fathers, but to same-sex and parents of adopted children.

“It will improve work-life balance, boost family time and fits in with a human-centric company like ours,” said Greg Maruszewski, managing director of Volvo SA.

As a company known globally for its generous parental leave, Volvo’s offer is the first of its kind in the local motor industry.

The country’s standard for mothers was four months of paid maternity leave from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) and is capped to a gross salary of R14 872.

For women in the higher salary brackets, employers usually cover between 75% and 100% of the deficit.

Fathers, adoptive fathers and same-sex partners get three days of family responsibility leave when babies arrive.

However, under the Labour Laws Amendment Act, which was proposed in November, they will receive 10 days of paternal leave once it has been approved.

Maruszewski said Volvo’s parental leave initiative was what it “generously” offered its employees globally and it was part of its long-term strategy of being an employer of choice in SA.

“The policy creates an inclusive culture that will continue to retain and attract a diverse group of employees. It will also improve work-life balance, boost family time and fits in with a progressive human-centric company like ours,” said Maruszewski.

Teboho Thejane, spokesperson for the Department of Labour, said there was no intention to match Volvo’s paternal leave offerings at this stage.

The Public Servants Association of SA said the initiative was welcomed.

According to Brian Denny, a labour expert with law firm Norton Rose Fulbright, South Africa is the first sub-Saharan African country to promulgate parental leave for both parents, but is still far behind European countries.

‘Women have always borne a disproportionate responsibility when it comes to childcare and Volvo’s policy addresses that issue.”

He said by giving men paid paternity leave it ensured equal distribution of childcare and consequently ensured women’s economic participation in the labour market.

Denny called for labour laws to be developed further to give all parents a choice about leave benefits.

“Both men and women pay UIF. Therefore, they should be entitled to equal benefits. The amendments in the LLAA is a step in the right direction, but there is still much progress to be made.

“A gender-neutral policy sends a strong signal that a company values its employees. It will also alleviate the perception that the child-bearing role of women is a liability for employers.”

Denny said research showed companies with higher participation in programmes designed to support working parents have higher employee retention and job satisfaction.

Sunday Tribune