Maternity leave: readers’ feedback

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My article of the previous week on maternity leave attracted some responses from followers of Labour Perspectives.

I was so overwhelmed by the interest shown on this subject that I have decided to devote this week’s column to the same issue.

Unfortunately, I will not be able to acknowledge all the responses due to space constraints. Let me start with the views from one keen follower of this column from Bulawayo:

“I read with keen interest your article. Three perspectives can be used to view the maternity/paternity leave namely capitalism, corporate social responsibility and human resources.

Capitalistic lens

The views expressed by some of the readers are informed by the capitalist philosophy.

Capitalism is simply about profit-maximisation. People are seen as a factor of production, hence they are called labour.

Labour is not an HR term. It is an economics term borrowed from capitalist jargon.

Thus labour is an expense and not an investment. Capitalism is built on the win-lose paradigm or zero sum game.

Where do companies get money to fund perks such as guaranteed annual holidays, DSTv subscriptions, etc?

If there is a business case for funding these, surely maternity/paternity leave should have a more compelling business case?

Corporate social responsibility lens

Corporate social responsibility begins with the company.

Some scholars actually identify working conditions as part of corporate social responsibility.

Before companies start donating and doing acts of “benevolence” to outside communities they must begin with the internal community.

Some companies such as FNB set aside 2% of annual revenues for social responsibility activities.

This percentage of revenues is about the best practice in the total cost to the company for senior executives!

I do not think annual maternity/paternity leave costs exceed 1% of annual company revenues.

Thus viewed from a corporate social responsibility angle, maternity/paternity leave should not be seen as a burden.

HR lens

HR views people as both human capital and people. I

n HR people are not a cost. People are not one of factors of production. People are not labour.

They are an investment. Thus a return on investment is expected. But people are not and cannot be managed.

People are led and not managed. Factors of production can be managed. Only things can be managed.

To manage people you must first turn them into things (Steve Covey). Managers should know what to manage.

I am afraid people cannot be managed. Cash flows, machines, work schedules are things and thus can be managed.

If people are led their return on investment would be much higher than it is now. Thus well-led employees should bring enough money into the company to fund their benefits, including maternity/paternity leave.

Developed countries: Are they mad?

Developed countries have gone past the maternity/paternity business case, but are looking at enhanced maternity/paternity benefits.

In a recent consultancy project I did for a top Sadc institution, I did a benchmarking survey on both monetary and non-monetary benefits.

It was clear that in the US, Western Europe, Australia and New Zealand maternity/paternity benefits are more generous than in Sadc.

Are we missing something here? Where was capitalism born? Is it not in Western Europe?

Conclusion

Business executives in Zimbabwe need mindset change, “need to move to the leadership paradigm. They need to manage things and lead people”.

An acquaintance whom I have not heard from or seen in many months couldn’t resist the urge to offer his views on the matter.

Talk of announcing one’s presence in style! I found his piece strikingly similar to that of my reader from the western part of the country. Wrote the trade unionist:

“Hi, Isaac. Greetings from the labour movement. I think we have not met this year. Thanks for the article on maternity leave. Hope your capitalist friends will respect the law and stop discriminating against women in employment.

Your colleagues in business must understand that industry needs workers as some retire, die or migrate so the supply side must be boosted by allowing women to go on maternity leave.

The issue of cost is very minimal compared to a failure to have workers. Capitalists will end up seeking migrant labour, thereby adding costs of relocating the employee.

A neighbour of mine migrated to Australia and the company met all the costs for the man and his family and it is paying for accommodation etc.

Last week I was in Vienna, Austria. Imagine maternity leave there is six months on full pay! They are encouraging people to make babies.

Their social dialogue is not regulated but thrives on mutual trust and there are very few strikes thereby boosting production.

Anyway in your article, you did not bring out your mind as the author on whether in your opinion maternity is a cost or benefit. Your opinion must convince the readers. The article is incomplete because you only told us what people think and your opinion is hidden.”

Well pal, you’re right. I deliberately took no position on the matter so as not to stifle debate on so controversial a subject. Labour Perspectives is primarily an interactive forum which thrives on the diversity of views from its readership.

One reader asked a short but loaded question:

“How legal is this?” I guess I know what he was asking about hence I will proceed to answer him from that perspective. While I have hands-on experience in the application of labour laws, I am not a labour lawyer. My opinion pieces should not be treated as a substitute for expert legal opinion.

However, a point of caution: labour relations is a social science, many a time there is no one right answer to a set of circumstances.

Social matters are not like an engineer’s project, with its definite commencement dates, milestones and completion times.

I received a text message from a distressed lady who wrote: “Hello. I came across your article about maternity leave in NewsDay. I was on maternity leave in September but had a stillbirth. Will I be paid if I go on leave before two years?”

My sincere condolences to her for the loss of her unborn baby and hope that she has fully recovered and is in good health.

My answer to her question is that paid maternity leave will only be granted to her after two years have elapsed from the date she was last granted such leave by her employer.

A number of civil servants, mostly teachers, felt the contents of last week’s article were at variance with the practice on the ground.

The issue is that civil servants are under the jurisdiction of the Public Service Act as read with the Public Service Regulations (Statutory Instrument 1 of 2000).

I will tackle the provisions of these regulations in my future instalments.

My article was targeted at workers in the private sector, local authorities and parastatals whose conditions of service are governed by the Labour Act.

These conditions obviously differ from those in the public service.