“The best judge of whether or not a country is going to develop is how it treats its women. “If it’s educating its girls, if women have equal rights, that country is going to move forward.
By MIRIAM TOSE MAJOME
“But if its women are oppressed and abused and illiterate, then that country is going to fall behind,’’ Barack Obama.
March is women’s month and it is fitting to discuss the labour law issues that affect women in this continuing series.
It is most unfortunate that some people choose to obfuscate women’s rights with women domination yet there is no link whatsoever between the two concepts.
Nothing could be more different.
Women’s rights are about real global developmental issues.
As Obama, quoted above, said a nation cannot develop when at least half its population is not allowed to contribute to the development of that nation.
It is not rocket science and it only common sense.
In certain folklore, women are believed to hold up half the sky.
Women’s issues in the workplace are important as working women contribute significantly to the gross domestic product of a nation.
Their contribution to economics is by no means small.
It must be acknowledged and accepted that all women are working women, as there is hardly a woman anywhere on the planet who does not work.
Women have had to fight for their rights in their private spaces as much as in the work place.
Many women have died and continue to suffer to change discriminatory laws and sexist practices.
Women in employment have to grapple with maternity leave rights, sexual harassment, gender discrimination, access to career advancement opportunities, training and education opportunities, unequal pay for similar work amongst other issues which affect women exclusively.
We shall look at all these issues in turn throughout this month.
Many women are even denied their right to choose to take up employment by husbands or their families for the simple reason that they are women to the detriment of their social, personal and economic advancement.
This is of the most contentious issues faced exclusively by working women of child bearing age.
From an employer’s perspective, pregnancy is a liability to the business, as maternity leave is an unforeseen expense and inconvenience.
It is an awkward, but stubborn fact that women of childbearing age are a business risk.
Their employers have to reconcile themselves to all the possibilities and must submit themselves to the law if they ever need to take maternity leave.
This sounds like a precautionary call for discriminatory recruitment, but it must be noted that discrimination on gender lines is manifestly unlawful in terms of section 56(3) of the Constitution.
Discrimination based on nationality, race, colour, tribe, place of birth, ethnic or social origin, language, class, religious belief political affiliation opinion, custom, culture sex, gender, marital status, age, pregnancy, disability or economic or social status is forbidden.
Employers are bound by section 18 of the Labour Act.
Pregnant women are entitled to be away from work on child birth related business on full pay for 98 days on condition that they have been in that employment for at least one year.
Maternity leave rights cannot be claimed by women, who were already pregnant when they became employed.
They will take unpaid maternity leave.
This is an attempt to balance the various competing interests — that is — business, human rights and health.
Mothers and new born babies need special attention during this time but business interests must be considered as well.
More often than not, someone else has to be employed on a temporary basis and be paid while at the same time paying the woman on maternity leave her full salary.
This is an obvious strain on the business and in the perennial economic gloom of our country, where companies are genuinely struggling even to pay basic salaries, maternity leave rights can be put into jeopardy.
It must be noted that 98 days is the minimum period allowed, but more time can be negotiated between the parties.
The woman only has to produce a medically certified proof of the pregnancy and can commence the leave 45 to 21 days before her expected due date.
Fully paid maternity leave is accorded for a maximum three pregnancies with the same employer and it cannot be claimed more than once in two years under the same employment.
A woman can go on maternity leave as many times as she wants, but it will be unpaid leave outside the stipulated parameters.
When a woman is on maternity leave, her employment contract is deemed to be in continuation.
None of her normal benefits can be reduced or broken by her absence from work.
The normal benefits and entitlements, including her rights to promotions and career advancement, the accumulation of pension rights should continue uninterrupted, as if she had not gone on the maternity leave.
Post maternity leave
Breastfeeding mothers are entitled to paid time off work for the first six months of the baby’s life if they require it.
They are allowed at least an hour off during normal working hours for breast feeding their baby.
The only requirement is that any such privilege taken should not interfere with the requirements of the job.
The entitlement is to be negotiated and conducted in a manner that is least disruptive to the job demands.
Employers, who breach the maternity rights of women, are liable to prosecution for unfair labour practices.
Paternity leave is the time a father can take away from work around the time his child is born or adopted.
This is popular in some developed countries and is usually for not more than two weeks and usually unpaid except in a few countries.
Nothing precludes Zimbabwean men from demanding this right.
In 2016 the then Labour deputy minister Tapiwa Matangaidze said the government was working on introducing a paternity leave bill, although its progress has not yet been reported.
Fathers, who want time off to be with their new babies, can still utilise their accumulated leave days or make use of the 12 days special leave days accorded in terms of section 14B.
Employees are ordinarily allowed up to 12 days a year on compassionate grounds to take care of personal matters such as family illnesses and bereavements.
Men may as well utilise these days to be available for the births of their children.
Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on email@example.com