I had this topic saved as a draft as far back as 10 October 2015 but never got around to completing it.The motivation to finally sit down to get it completed was after I saw an online petition requesting parliament’s approval for 6 months maternity leave. Just in case you are not aware yet, kindly check out the link to the petition and don’t forget to share. The greater the number of people talking about this, the better.
Days after seeing this petition circulating on social media, I received a call from a friend asking if it was true that parliament had finally approved the 6 months period of leave. Thoughts running through my mind were, if this turns out to be true would it have a prospective or retrospective effect? Would employers buy into this extension? I quickly googled and checked with my HR but sadly that was not the case. My excitement quickly died down, I was really looking forward to an extension as I am currently on maternity leave and coming to the less shocking realisation that the 3 months period is just too short!!
So I decided to do a brief write-up on this and possibly suggest some potential win-win alternatives.
What is maternity leave?
Maternity leave according to the Oxford dictionary, is defined as a period of absence from work granted to a mother prior to and post childbirth.
The hustle with planning one’s leave can be likened to balancing a scale where weights on either sides are uneven. You wish for rest for your exhausted self prior to delivery but that also eats into your already insufficient 3 months (12 weeks). There are situations where ladies go into labour at work…….no worries they always drive to and from work with their hospital bag in the boot,so just like the boys’ scouts and girl guides, they are always prepared!
Why is maternity leave considered essential?
Paid parental leave (this includes paternity leave which some companies have started granting to fathers) based on research can have substantial positive effects on both the mother and child.
It gives the mother some time to readjust plus allow parents some time to bond with the baby. The most important is to give the baby the opportunity to be exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
We currently have day care centres that enroll kids as early as 3 months so the argument would be why not just pack some milk and bundle the little one to daycare. That should be easy! It’s not that easy breezy, pumping of breast milk is no small task and not all working mothers are endowed with abundant milk supply like others and the hours spent at work with no place to extract milk might eventually deplete the already scanty baby chopbox. Our 6 months exclusivity KPI then goes down the drain!
What research reveals……………….
In a study by Chatterji and Markowitz (2012) on the impact of family leave after birth on the maternal health, it was concluded that having more than 8 or 12 weeks of maternity leave resulted in a lower likelihood of depression occurring and improves the maternal health with a positive impact on the child’s health and well-being.
According to the study, there is however limited research on the impact of paternity leave on the health of the mother and the baby.
My wish is for more research to be conducted on the impact of paternity leave on the family. Should you find any relevant article kindly do share with me (email@example.com).
What the Labour act states
According to the Ghana Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) the following are entitlements of nursing mothers:
- At least 12 weeks of maternity paid leave after which annual leave days could be added;
- Additional 2 weeks for abnormal (eg. Is birth via c-section) confinements or multiple births;
- Any other medical reasons attested to by a medical practitioner resulting from the confinement;
- An hour a day to nurse the baby.
Note the underlined and boldened text. The Act states a minimum of 12 weeks paid, there is however no limitation on an employer to make this their maximum as is mostly the case. Employers can change the status quo without waiting on parliament’s approval especially if their values includes work-life balance and maximising contributions of women in the work place.
Views on maternity leave
The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) has been advocating for some time now on the below:
- extension of maternity leave from the current 3 months to 6 months to encourage working mothers to exclusively breastfeed for the 6 months period
- mandatory nurseries set up in both public and private institutions
It is the view that although this would be costly to the employer, in terms of the overall impact employers should see the benefits from the long-term perspective in terms of human resource development (ie. Allowing mothers time to effectively raise well-trained and healthy children who would be the future workforce of the country) (Awadzi, 2013).
Others view maternity leave as a form of discrimination. What is their argument? They are of the opinion that having a child is a personal decision and an employer is not obligated to pay you for charting this course.
What can I say? Sadly I have come to the realisation that one cannot have it all. You either excel at work at the expense of your family and vice versa. A colleague once confided in me on how devastated she felt when she did not get promoted. Mind you, this is a very hardworking person but due to her absence from being on maternity leave, she lost out. But as I always tell my friends, its your choice on whether you prefer work or family to suffer.
Examples from other countries
Maternity leave days range from as low as 12 weeks to as high as 420 days. Will not delve into details but if you have the time, you can access details on maternity leave by countries from the International Labour Organisation’s website.
I am strongly for 6 months of paid maternity leave, which mother would not want this? In as much as we would wish for this the best option would be to reach a common ground where employers do not feel it’s a cost to pay an employee on maternity leave for 6 months. Granting this might in the long-term result in discrimination towards ladies in the workplace and especially in the quest to search for a job.
Based on the above, I would suggest the following:
- How about an employee setting the pace in Ghana by granting 6 months paid leave, after all the 3 months is just the minimum so why go low when you can go high?
- Employers could have options available to enable an employee to decide bearing in mind the minimum 3 months period. Examples could be 3 months (full salary) + next 3 months (50% or whatever percentage is agreed on), 3 months (full salary) + 3 months (full salary to work from home) this is dependent on the nature of the work
- Incorporating flexible working hours for nursing mothers
- Maintain the minimum 3 months and set up a nursery within the vicinity of the workplace, with payments to be deducted from source. This would enable mothers have the peace of mind and also succeed with exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months. Before this option is punched down because of costs, the other alternative would be to partner with a day care close to the workplace (employer can even negotiate a discount).
What are your thoughts and experiences? What are other companies doing that others could emulate or learn from?
Just in case you forgot to sign the petition with the link I provided earlier. No need to scroll up, you can access it: change.org (petition for maternity leave in Ghana to be extended to 6 months)
Chatterji, P. & Markowitz, S., 2012. Family Leave After Childbirth and the Mental Health of New Mothers. The Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics, Volume 15, pp. 61-76.
Oxford University Press, 2017. Definition of maternity leave in English. [Online]
Available at: https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/maternity_leave
[Accessed 18 March 2017].