Labour Law Amendment Bill: public hearings

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Labour

22 September 2016
Chairperson: Ms L Yengeni (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Committee convened a hearing on the Labour Law Amendment bill, which had been proposed by Ms C Dudley (ACDP). The background to the bill was that only pregnant women could take maternity leave, and the father of the child was also entitled to some days of leave. The new proposal was to include those parents who were also adopting a child to be able to take leave, as well as providing leave for elderly care.

The three stakeholders who put forward submissions were Mr Hendri Terblanche, Sonke Gender Justice and the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU). All agreed on the amendments to extend maternity and paternity leave so that both parents could be involved in early infant care, and also that the mother would be assisted by her partner and therefore lessen the burden on her. It was also proposed to have the same amount of leave days/months for adoptive parents, so that they could be involved in counselling and help the child adapt to the new surroundings.

Elderly care leave was introduced as a new amendment to the bill. The proposal was to have three days elderly care leave, instead of the one to two days. Concern was expressed that it was more common in African households for elderly parents to be taken care of by their own relatives than by a stranger, and therefore the three days would need to be extended.

Questions raised by Members of the Committee, as well as by members of the public, covered issues such as the ideal length of the various types of leave proposed, the possible role of the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) in providing financial support, the rights of same sex couples, how to regulate the situation in polygamous marriages, and whether pensioners who looked after children whose fathers were no longer providing support, could receive assistance.

The Chairperson said the submissions would be deliberated by the Committee before presenting the ill to the National Assembly.

Meeting report

Opening remarks

The Chairperson said that the hearing was on the Labour Law Amendment bill, which had been proposed by Ms C Dudley (ACDP). The background to the bill was that only pregnant women could take maternity leave, and the father of the child was also entitled to some days of leave. The new proposal was to include those parents who were also adopting a child to be able to take leave, as well as providing leave for elderly care.

The Chairperson said that civil society and all their members were always invited to public hearings.

Submission by Mr Hendri Terblanche

Mr Hendri Terblanche said that there was no difference between having children through adoption or birth. It was only about love. For adoption, his first recommendation was to have three months’ leave for the first commissioning parent, and ten business days for the second commissioning parent. The reason for the three months was that there were no labour pains involved if the child was adopted and therefore no recovery period.

Mr Terblanche also recommended elderly care leave, with a minimum of two days to introduce elderly care giving, and amend the responsibility to include parents.

For maternity leave, there was an opportunity to amend it to six months, but for now the four-month period was fine. There was a need for paternity leave for the father. In the current legislation, the father was the secondary caregiver.

The Constitution, section 8 (1), granted citizens equal protection and benefits of the law. The White Paper on Families in South Africa of 2013 involved men in home-based care, to lessen the burden on women, and had the possibility of calling for the inclusion of paternity leave in the Basic Conditions of Employment Act 75 of 1997 and strengthening the recognition of parenting and support for parents in the workplace.

The current legislation on maternity leave entitled employment leave, dependent on certain situations. Family responsibility leave granted an employee three days leave annually when a child was born, when the employee’s child was sick, or in the event of a death of the employee’s child, or life partner, or the employee’s parent, adoptive parent, grandparent, child, adopted child, grandchild, or sibling.

Paternity leave was not properly addressed. Employees were only entitled to paternity leave for three days after the child was born. The only negative aspect of the ten days’ paid paternity leave was the actual cost to the employer, with the ten days absenteeism from work. The Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) could be amended to include paternity leave.

The impacts/benefits of paternity leave were that the child injury rate would be reduced, and the divorce rate would also decrease, since fathers would be more involved with the family and the child would grow up in a stable environment. The impact on mothers was that the father taking paternity leave would assist with the mother’s wellbeing three months after the birth of the child, and the sickness of mothers would be reduced by 5-10% from an average of 20% in families where fathers took longer than ten days’ leave. Paternity leave would also result in more infant care by fathers, and new mothers would be less prone to depression. The impact on fathers would be that they were more involved in infant care, they were more satisfied with the time spent with their children, and they remained more focused on their infants afterwards and more supportive to their partner, and placed a higher value on family life. Fathers who took parental leave also reduced the sole responsibility of the mother and this helped with her frame of mind in the work environment.

Currently there existed no provision for adoptive parents to have leave after adopting a child. Some people who were infertile tended to adopt, as well as same sex couples. These groups of people required the same benefits with a biological child regarding paternity and maternal leave.

With elderly care leave, parents got older and life expectancy was reduced. Elderly people raised their children and with old age, the children now had to take care of the parents, so the proposal was for two days’ elderly care leave, or to extend family responsibility leave to five days.

Mr Terblanche concluded his submission, and asked the Chairperson when these amendments would be signed into law.

The Chairperson said that the decision to enact the law was a collective one, and the Committee Members would then ask questions of clarity and the decision would be taken within the National Assembly.

Discussion

Mr T Rawula (EFF) asked if Mr Terblanche was asking the Committee to adopt the ten-day paternity leave proposal or paws resenting the costs it would have on business. Was he asking that the Committee stick to the four-month leave allowance, or adjust it to six months?

Mr Terblanche said that he was not sure if the Committee was going to accept the ten-day leave proposal, or if they would rather keep it as it currently was, so he had given the Committee options to decide before they presented the bill to the National Economic Development and Labour Council (NEDLAC). The six month maternity leave was ideal, but the Committee needed to look at what was workable and what was not.

Ms F Loliwe (ANC) asked for clarity on the elderly care leave, since it had first been indicated that one days’ elderly care leave should be granted, and then at a later stage Mr Terblanche had mentioned two days’ elderly care leave.

Mr Terblanche said that his request in the amendment was for the two-day elderly care leave. He had made typing errors in his first submission to the Committee, and had sent a new submission with all the changes.

Ms S van Schalkwyk (ANC) said that in the final submission, there had been comparisons between South Africa and other countries, and she would greatly appreciate it if Mr Terblanche could forward them to the Committee secretary. She asked for clarity between ‘parental care leave’ and ‘paternal leave’, because Mr Terblanche had said that “if fathers took parental care then this would reduce their paternal leave”.

Mr Terblanche said that the amended information had been submitted to the secretary already. He was in support of four months’ maternity leave for women. There was a stigma attached to women taking too much maternity leave, so there was a need to equalize the benefits for men and women so there would be no stigma.

Mr I Ollis (DA) said that he appreciated what Mr Terblanche was doing, in trying to balance the costs of leave on the business with the personal needs at home, and all the costs and benefits needed to be weighted.

Mr D America (DA) asked whether parental leave would be applied in a non-discriminatory way to same sex couples as well.

Mr M Bagraim (DA) said the elderly care leave issue was somewhat confused, according to his understanding. In terms of the actual claim for the paternity leave, he assumed that Mr Terblanche was looking at the pay out from the UIF, and this only affected people who had been in employment for a long period of time.

The Chairperson said there had been an insinuation that Parliament had not responded to the petition of Mr Terblanche. Parliamentary Committees did not deal with petitions. Such requests were sent to the National Council of Provinces’ (NCOPs’) Select Committee on Petitions, and they decided if this was a matter for the National Assembly’s Portfolio Committees.

Mr Terblanche said that ‘parental leave’ was a blanket term that was not specific on either maternal or paternal leave, so the parents had the discretion on what the exact reason for the leave would be.

The issue regarding the UIF was not specific, whether it was the citizen who needed to address the UIF, or if Parliament would decide and address the UIF.

Submission by Sonke Gender Justice (SGJ)

Mr Wessel van den Berg, Child Rights and Positive Parenting Portfolio Manager, SGJ said that his submission would be short and addressed a specific problem. SGJ had the vision that the UIF was a workable system, and parents could receive paid care to stay at home.

Improving paid leave for fathers on paternal leave and mothers on maternity leave increased the options for parents to have assistance in raising children. Men's involvement in unpaid care contributed to gender equality. SGJ’s position on the bill was that it was a general purpose bill, and it did not allow time for parental leave and same sex parenting. A same sex marriage framework should match a heterosexual model.

SGJ was proposing that the bill be amended to accommodate the six months’ maternity leave to allow for same sex couples and others adopting to have time for counseling and pre-natal support leave.

A counter-argument had been raised was that business could not afford to support maternity leave for six months, but the advantages were that leave provided short term employment, increased women's employment rates, reduced discrimination, reduced employee stress, business became an employer of choice, and paternity leave increased the gross domestic product (GDP).

Submission by the Congress of SA Trade Unions (COSATU)l

Mr Matthew Parks, Parliamentary Liaison Officer, COSATU, said his organisation was in support of the bil, and that it was progressive.

He thanked the Committee for their work in advancing workers’ conditions, as well as Ms Dudley for preparing the bill, and Mr Terblanche for pushing COSATU and other stakeholders to get involved.

The bill was part of COSATU’s long struggle in advancing workers’ rights and making sure that mothers were given proper time to recover from childbirth while receiving their pay, and also that fathers were also present to play their role and offer support.

The bill would be useful for encouraging fathers to be involved in infant care and also to encourage adoption and decrease their dependence on the state. Adoption leave was necessary for parents adopting a child to receive support, and the view of COSATU was that all children needed support and instead of having ten weeks for adoption leave, this should be equalised with the normal maternal leave. COSATU said the new amendments to the bill were affordable for the UIF, and COSATU was in full support.

Mr Parks said he was glad that Parliament was also in support of amending the bill, and he hoped it would receive cross-party support.

Questions

Mr Ollis asked what Sonke Gender Justice meant by proposing six months’ maternal leave for the mother and also six months’ paternal leave for the father. If it was at the same time, the parents would collectively be absent for 12 months from work.

Members of the public put forward a number of questions:

  • What could two pensioners over the age of 80 do to receive support when the father of the child was no longer supporting the child?
  • What happened in polygamous marriages, where a man could be married to more than one wife and they all fell pregnant around the same time? Would the man receive ten days paternal leave for each of the wives?
  • Mr Terblanche had mentioned that there had been a White Paper on Families, and that Parliament had forgotten about the White Paper. What contribution would it have made if Parliament had implemented it?
  • The bill did not address other matters more effectively. The elderly care leave was an issue that needed to be looked at closely, because old people preferred to be looked after by a family relative, rather than by a stranger.
  • As a parent who had a daughter who had given birth but did not support herself, what support system was there beside the child support grant?
  • What steps could one take when one’s employer denied one’s request for paternity leave?
  • The six-month maternity leave was too long for single parents who received no support from the father of the child and could not stay away from work for such a long period. It should rather stay four months, or even shorter.
  • What role did the Department of Labour play, so that employers were forced to register employees on UIF? What benefits would there be for a pregnant woman on maternity leave if her employer did not register her for maternity leave and she was not receiving income for four to six months?
  • How could the Committee help communities to make irresponsible parents pay maintenance for their biological children?

Responses

Mr Parks said that the issue of principle related to maternity, paternity, adoption leave or elderly care leave, was of priority for COSATU.

The three days for paternal leave was not enough, and they were in support of the ten-day leave proposal. It was more common in African families for them to take care of the elderly parents themselves, and the two-day leave should rather be increased.

Mr Van den Berg said that SGJ’s submission was that parents could apply for adoption leave as long as the child was under the age of 18, and for the full six months, because teenagers were especially vulnerable when joining a new family. They were not proposing six months’ leave for both parents, but that it would be an option in later years. The six months would cover either parent, and was inclusive of same sex parents.

Ms Kerryn Rehse, Advocacy and Communications Programme Manager, MOSAIC (associated with SGJ) said that any child born, no matter the parental structure, needed care. The child did not ask to be born, and this applied to either adoption, same sex parents or single parents.

Mr Patrick Godana, Government and Media Liaison Manager, SGJ, said that SGJ was trying its best to reach as many people and communities as possible, and requested the help of government. It had been working with the City of Cape Town so that they could reach as many people as possible.

Mr Terblanche said that the White Paper on Families had been presented to Parliament, but he was not aware whether any action had been taken or not. Paternity leave had the potential to strengthen the family household, because there would be more presence in the home and responsibilities would be shared. Three days may not be sufficient for elderly care, but this was new legislation that they were first testing the ground with.

The Chairperson thanked everyone who had been part of the public hearing. Everything discussed in the public hearing had been recorded and when the Committee deliberated on the final amendments to the bill, they would consider the comments.

The Chairperson adjourned the meeting.

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