Working moms get a raw deal
By Nalisha Kalideen
South African companies are increasingly forcing women out of
their jobs when they return from maternity leave, and many are refusing
to hire pregnant women.
Labour experts have told The Star that most women who feel the pinch of
"nature’s burden" are those in middle or senior management positions.
Martina*, a mother-of-two, recently returned to work after four months’
maternity leave, only to find her position was no longer available. A
male colleague, who was meant to stand in for her, had been hired
permanently as a bookkeeping financial manager.
"They said my salary was (very high) for the only position available in
the accounting department and that I would now work elsewhere," Martina
The article continues:
Andrew Cross, a labour consultant at Labour
Law Associates, said his firm received at least five calls a week from
women who had been unfairly dismissed or discriminated against because
of their pregnancy.
"When a woman is pregnant and seeking employment, there is a preference not to hire her," Cross said.
Derek Jackson, a labour consultant from SA Labour Guide, said that in
most cases, women who return from maternity leave are either placed in
alternative positions or told that her position is no longer available.
Said Martina: "I said I would not take responsibility of the (new)
position unless (the company) gave me training, and they said that if I
went for external training, I would immediately be held responsible for
mistakes and be given warning letters if I erred." She concluded that
it was the company’s way of trying to get rid of her.
Labour attorney Yozan Bothma, whose clients are mainly large
corporations, said she had often seen her clients discriminate against
She said that for more skilled positions it became difficult to find
temporary replacements and that companies would either put pressure on
a woman into taking less leave or try to force her to resign.
Another way to force a woman out of her position was to refuse to pay her salary while she was on maternity leave.
Although the Basic Conditions of Employment Act allows for at least
four consecutive months of maternity leave, it does not require the
employer to pay the woman while she is away.
Women could claim compensation from the Unemployment Insurance Fund,
but women who earn more than R97 000 are not entitled to claim. Cross
said it was a legislative loophole that many companies used.
"Unless the woman has a spouse who can pick up the bill, she should
just not have children, or have them before she starts working," he
Moipone Malefane reports that Labour Department spokesperson Page
Boikanyo said Martina’s case was an unfair labour practice in terms of
the Labour Relations Act. Many cases don’t make it to the Commission
for Conciliation, Mediation and Arbitration because women are unaware
of their rights. The CCMA currently has only 25 cases lodged between
April and December.
*Her name has been changed.
- This article was originally published on page 1 of The Star on January 24, 2005
This type of behaviour is shameful. Most working women have to work because their partners (assuming they are not single mothers) can’t afford to support them. Of course this is worse for single mothers who suddenly find themselves without an income when they need it most. But wait, there is more!
We have been living in a consitutional democracy for over 10 years now. We have come from almost a century of racial discrimination and in this New South Africa we find that while much attention is focussed on rectifying the wrongs committed against the black majority all those years, companies feel free to discriminate against women because they have had the audacity to bear children. Our constitution has a bill of rights which entrenches certain fundamental rights. One of those rights is the right to equality which reads as follows:
9. (1) Everyone is equal before the law and has the right to equal protection
and benefit of the law.
(2) Equality includes the full and equal enjoyment of all rights and
freedoms. To promote the achievement of equality, legislative and other
measures designed to protect or advance persons, or categories of persons,
disadvantaged by unfair discrimination may be taken.
(3) The state may not unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against
anyone on one or more grounds, including race, gender, sex, pregnancy,
marital status, ethnic or social origin, colour, sexual orientation, age,
disability, religion, conscience, belief, culture, language and birth.
(4) No person may unfairly discriminate directly or indirectly against
anyone on one or more grounds in terms of subsection (3). National legislation
must be enacted to prevent or prohibit unfair discrimination.
(5) Discrimination on one or more of the grounds listed in subsection
(3) is unfair unless it is established that the discrimination is fair.
I think it is time to get tough with these companies.