Maternity leave is defined as a “period of absence from work granted to a mother prior to and post childbirth.”
For those that are lucky, their place of work allows them to get paid during their maternity leave. Generally, common benefits associated with paid maternity leave include a positive impact on the well-being of both mother and child which reduces the likelihood of the mother suffering from depression, it is easier to achieve 6 months exclusive breastfeeding and it provides an opportunity to readjust to having a baby before resuming work.
Being a working mother involves the challenge of planning one’s leave which can be likened to balancing a scale with uneven weights on either sides. Your wish for rest for your exhausted self prior to delivery translates to lesser days after child birth. I have heard of stories where expectant working mothers go into labour at work but before you panic about her preparedness, keep in mind that in the bid to retain more leave days post childbirth she always drives to and from work with her hospital bag in the boot of the car. How safe is this for both mother and unborn child in light of related stress levels?
Personally I had my first child whilst on a career break but I came to appreciate the importance of this leave when I had my second child. It’s heart-breaking no matter how prepared you are to wake up one morning to leave this tiny fragile baby with a day-care or nanny in situations where you do not have any family support system.
Driving around in Ghana, you will notice day care centres that enrol children from as early as 3 months old due to the limited options available to most working mothers. I cannot confirm if these day cares are subjected to frequent monitoring and checks with information easily accessible to all to determine whether a day care is up to working standards. With limited information, mothers tend to rely on referrals or worst-case use proximity as a basis for selection.
According to the Ghana Labour Act 2003 (Act 651) nursing mothers are allowed:
- At least 12 weeks of maternity paid leave after which annual leave days can be added;
- Additional 2 weeks for abnormal confinements such as birth via cesarean section, multiple births or any other medical reasons attested to by a medical practitioner.
- An hour a day to nurse the baby.
The Act states that one is entitles to a minimum of 12 weeks paid leave, 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 include work-life balance and maximising contributions of women in the work place.
The Ghana Medical Association (GMA) has also been advocating for some time now for extension of maternity leave from the current 3 months to 6 months to encourage working mothers to exclusively breastfeed for the 6 months period and for the provision of mandatory nurseries set up in both public and private institutions.
There is the view that although this would be costly to the employer, employers should consider long term benefits such as human resource development in that mothers are given the time to effectively raise well-trained and healthy children who are the future workforce).
Maternity leave days of countries across the globe range from as low as 12 weeks to as high as 420 days. Why can’t my beloved Ghana aspire to be one of the first African countries to implement such extended policies for its nursing mothers?
The growing interest in the extension of maternity leave days in the country has seen people arguing for and against the motion. It also resulted in an online petition in 2017 to request parliament to extend the leave to 6 months. In addition, the First Lady of Ghana, Rebecca Akufo-Addo added her voice by calling for a minimum of 3.5 months (14 weeks) which is an additional 2 weeks to the current minimum. Amid all this attention since 2017, Parliament is yet to pass an Act on this. All that we are left with now is informal expressions of the need to extend the maternity leave period.
There is an argument that mothers should express enough milk for caregivers in their absence instead of requesting for an extension. Unfortunately, this is not as simple as it is stated. Pumping of breast milk is a job on its own and if you are a mother with limited flow then you would spend hours trying to store a large supply for use in your absence.
I STAND strongly for 6 months of paid maternity leave, however in as much as a common ground with maternity leave where employers do not feel that it is a high cost to bear relative to the benefits during the period of absence, it could in the long-term result in discrimination towards women in the workplace and also in their search for a job.
Based on the above discussions, I would suggest the following:
- Employers can take the initiative to extend leave
As earlier stated, employers do not need to get an Act passed by Parliament before they can proceed to introduce these extensions for working mothers. I believe it would reflect positively on the company’s brand and lead to maximum contribution and effectiveness from working mothers who have peace of mind to focus at work.
- Flexible maternity leave with pay options
Options such as: first 3 months (full salary) + next 3 months (50% or agreed percentage) or first 3 months (full salary) + 3 months (full salary to work from home). All these are dependent on the nature of one’s work. I had 2 months opportunity to work from home and I ensured I was physically present to attend to paperwork twice every week.
- Flexible working hours
Total working hours for the week could be agreed upon with the employee and irrespective of the time the employee reports to work or closes, the agreed hours must be achieved, planned ahead of time and communicated to employers to bring order to this kind of flexible working arrangement.
- Assistance with nursery services
An employer does not need to incur cost just to set up a nursery at the workplace. The Human Resource Department could alternatively together with the mother identify a nursery within the vicinity of the workplace and for convenience, payments to the nursery could be deducted from ones salary. Depending on the number of mothers at the workplace, the employer can work towards negotiating a discount with the nursery. This would enable mothers to have peace of mind and also allow them to succeed with exclusive breastfeeding for the 6 months. Currently I know Vodafon and MTN Ghana have nurseries set up at the work place for nursing mothers.
What are your thoughts and experiences? What are other companies in Africa doing that others could emulate or learn from? We would love to hear from you.
Featured image | young mother | DFID | flickr
The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Best of Africa.
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