​A single woman counts the cost of having a baby

Connie, 29, was expecting her second child. She was on the radio, asking for advice on how to invest her R5 000. She did not want a long-term investment because she needed to see returns as soon as her baby was born as her employer does not provide paid maternity leave.

The expectant mother was in a predicament. She was the primary care-giver for her four-year-old and would soon be for her newborn.

This situation is not uncommon, according to the South African Human Rights Commission’s report, South Africa’s Children: A Review of Equity and Child Rights. It states that, “in South Africa, just one in three children live with both biological parents”.

What I found strange is that labour law provides for four months for maternity leave, but companies may choose whether to make this paid leave — they are not legally obliged to do so.

This is incomprehensible given that most mothers are single parents who depend wholly on their salaries. When one considers that babies come with their scaled expenses, it is ludicrous to believe that any single parent would stay away from work. The four months thus becomes hogwash when tested against reality. Socioeconomic circumstances do not allow for the average single parent to nurse her newborn for four months.

Connie said that she would able to claim from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) for four months. This seemed promising until she told the radio presenter that the pay-out would not be enough to cover her existing expenses, including an additional baby. Her salary was R6 000 and UIF would only pay her about R3 480, and for only two months. Her rent is R3 000.

Interestingly, not every mother can claim from UIF because this depends on how long she has been contributing to the fund. According to UIF Maternity Matters, an independent company: “For every six months that you have worked and contributed to the UIF, you receive one month’s benefits.” Therefore “if you have been contributing for a minimum of 24 months over the last four years, you can get benefits for up to four months”.

Connie has contributed for 12 months, which enables her to claim for two months.

A mother receives anything up to 58% of her salary if she earns less than R14 782 and if her salary is above R14 782, only 38%. A mother would thus receive a maximum of R5 651 a month.

Listening to Connie’s story, it is unbelievable that this can happen in our constitutional dispensation.

As Connie told her story she sounded like a broken women, without dignity. Her decision to have a baby has placed her in a hard place; she wished not to be pregnant. And it can be said that a man will never find himself in this position.

This raises an inequality issue based on gender and pregnancy. Notwithstanding the likely infringements of the Bill of Rights, can a situation like Connie’s be justified as fair labour practice?

Moreover, what about the baby and its human rights? In terms of section 28 of the Constitution a child has a right to family care or parental care, to basic nutrition and to be protected from maltreatment, neglect, abuse or degradation.

How possible is it for Connie to provide her newborn with parental care and basic nutrition among other things when she is not earning because she is reproducing and the UIF payment is not enough to cover her costs?

There is no doubt that, given the high unemployment rate and socio-economic disparities, a woman is in no position to choose the company worth working for, one that cares about her human rights. So how fair is the labour market for women?

Palesa Lebitse is a law student with an interest in human rights

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Palesa Lebitse
Palesa Lebitse
Palesa Lebitse is a liberal feminist who regularly writes for the M&G.

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