The Legal Assistance Centre is in full support of calls to extend maternity leave from three to six months, but cautioned that if agreed upon-it should be introduced gradually to allow employers a chance to adapt to the move.
Speaking to this publication recently, LAC’s Public Outreach Manager Rachel Coomer said the move will allow mothers to exclusively breastfeed their children for six months.
“Whilst not all mothers will take advantage of this opportunity, allowing mothers the option to do so will provide an enabling environment and it is likely that over time more and more women will exclusively Breastfeed given the numerous benefits for their child and for themselves,” she said.
“We recommend that an extension of time on maternity leave should be gradually introduced to ensure that the change has a gradual impact on employers. For example, each year the time on maternity leave could be extended by just one or two weeks,” she said.
The calls to extend the maternity period comes at a time when several infant food producing companies proposed that guidelines on breastfeeding should be reduced from six to four months, despite the World Health Organization(WHO) warning that changing the terms could increase infant mortality.
Those who want the breastfeeding period to be reduced were accused of trying to make more money at the expense of newborn babies. Exclusive breastfeeding is normally recommended for the first six months of life, but some mothers prefer to supplement breastmilk with infant food.
The National Agenda for Children states that the promotion of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life is a government priority. This is in line with the World Health Organization recommendation that mothers should exclusively breastfeed their children for six months.
However the National Agenda does not make it clear how the government intends to balance this commitment with the provisions in the Labour Act and Social Security Act which provide for just eight weeks maternity leave after the birth of the child.
The Ministry of Health and Social Services National Guidelines for Infant and Young Child Feeding, which are in line with World Health Organization guidance, state that HIV-positive mothers should also exclusively breastfeed their children for six months (if the baby is HIV negative, the mother should take
anti-retroviral therapy to prevent mother-to-child transmission). Therefore HIV status is not a barrier to breastfeeding and so is not a reason against a recommendation for six months maternity leave after the birth of the child.
Both the old Labour Act of 1992 and new Labour Act of 2004 protect a pregnant woman who has completed at least twelve months of ‘continuous service’ with an employer.
According to both Acts, a woman is entitled to three months’ or 12 weeks’ maternity leave of which four weeks can be taken before the expected date of confinement.
According to the Labour Act of 1992, an employer is not required to provide any remuneration during maternity leave.
During this period, the maternity leave benefit (income) can be claimed from the Social Security Fund, which is a general form of protection for employed people from loss of income whilst they are sick, pregnant, injured or old. “