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South African women seek union redress on maternity issues

By Crystal Oderson in Cape Town
Posted on Thursday, 3 July 2014 13:33

However, a collective of trade unions want the issue of maternity benefits to take center stage within unions.

Women are being punished and discriminated against for practicing their natural reproductive rights

“Women are being punished and discriminated against for practicing their natural reproductive rights,” the coalition representing a range of South African trade unions and NGOs, including labour federations COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU, the Labour Research Service WageIndicator and the Department of Labour, said.

The Labour Research Services’ Nina Benjamin told The Africa Report that the campaign is part of a broader international campaign focusing on the difficulty women face in workplace reproductive rights and how companies seldom assist them.

The group said there were “inconsistencies and omissions from the current legislation and bargaining agreements that made women feel punished for having children”.

Benjamin said women workers said “women’s issues are union issues” and that it was important for unions to support agreements concerning gender rights.

“It is also crucial to look at the gaps in legislation, and in agreements, that still make pregnancy and parenthood problematic in the workplace,” she said.

A Department of Labour survey on women in South Africa’s labour market says there has been an “increased feminisation of the South African labour force between 1995 and 2005”.

“While both the number of men and women who are working or willing to work increased over the period, the increase in the female labour force was greater. Females accounted for almost 58% of the growth in the labour force, while males accounted for 42,3% of the change,” reads the report.

Amongst the issues that were identified by the coalition as being problematic were the difficulties in accessing the state maternity benefit fund – sometimes women were only paid out once they had already returned to work, instead of when they were on maternity leave.

The lack of compliance with existing legislation – such as providing appropriate spaces for breastfeeding, or ensuring that women got their same jobs and positions back after maternity leave, were also seen as problematic.

The Department of Labour said it aware of the challenges women faced in the workplace and was willing to engage on the issues.

Benjamin said amendments to labour legislation are on the cards and the coalition hoped to engage on this issue.

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