Employers could reap the benefits of a more flexible parental leave approach

South African Reward Association
November 2022

In South Africa, fathers are entitled to 10 days parental leave upon the birth of the employee's child in terms of the Labour Laws Amendment Act. Mothers are entitled to 4 months unpaid maternity leave. However, this legislation has been brought into question.

In a recent case* filed at the High Court, Werner and Ika van Wyk argue that certain provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act (BCEA) should be ruled unconstitutional because they unfairly discriminate against fathers of newborn children. This by unjustifiably restricting their rights to paternity leave in South Africa.

According to Carmen Arico, Chartered Reward Specialist and spokesperson for the South African Reward Association (SARA), local legislation does indeed need to be leveraged for different parental options. This could include more time off for fathers, or a situation where parents themselves can decide how parental leave is split to best fit their individual needs.

Laws and policies must adapt to the changing times

“If you look at other countries, particularly those in Scandinavia, there’s a shift away from defining it as either “maternity” or “paternity”, towards an approach of “parental leave” which can be shared between parents. This keeps in mind how traditional family arrangements have evolved to now include same-sex couples, single parents, and co-parenting families.”

She believes that in order to be effective, employers must keep changing circumstances and societies in mind.

“Less than half of working age women were employed in the 1970s, and men often didn't spend much time with their families. However, that has changed. Nowadays, men meaningfully engage with their kids around seven times more often than they did in the past. And this is something they want to do.”

Arico notes that though many local employers still don't seem particularly eager to formalise a flexible parental leave approach for various situations, she does believe lockdown has started to change the view of a lot of companies.

“Employees now have much more freedom, and ideally this trend will extend to parental leave as well.”

Fulfilled employees add value in the long term

Arico adds that flexible parental leave could be a valuable asset for a company’s Employee Value Proposition (EVP).

“Instead of viewing it as a drawback where you now have to give more time off for male employees, for instance, it should be viewed as what it is: an engagement driver. In light of these legal rulings, employers ought to think about offering flexible parental leave policies to staff members. It fosters an atmosphere where workers want to come back to the company following their parental leave.”

Arico further emphasizes that South Africa's constitution is among the most progressive in the world. "When it comes to ensuring that there is no discrimination based on gender, sexual orientation, or any other factor, we serve as an example to others. I do believe that the Labour Laws Amendment Act must follow suit in the parental leave area in order to recognize the various familial structures and parental roles.”

She concludes by noting that South Africa's employers generally get things right.

“If we can now also change the thinking of “maternity versus paternity” and move towards a parental view, then we are a long way to being that progressive country we want to be seen as.”



MEDIA CONTACT: Rosa-Mari Le Roux, rosa-mari@atthatpoint.co.za, 060 995 6277, www.atthatpoint.co.za 

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