President Cyril Ramaphosa has signed into law the final draft of the Labour Laws Amendment Bill that will initiate new parental leave provisions, and from which fathers and adoptive parents will qualify for ten days of paid leave. The new provisions will be in effect from January 2019.
Ten days may not seem a lot for a new father but the bill is a landmark achievement for a number of reasons: it establishes a few important principles in the South African labour law framework, like non-gendered language for parental leave, dedicated leave for adoptive parents (from when the adoption order is granted) and commissioning parents in a surrogacy agreement, and allows for same sex couples to qualify for parental leave.
“Sonke advocates for equal parenting leave, however we see the signing of the Labour Laws Amendment Bill into law as an important step towards a more gender equitable society in South Africa,” says Sonke’s Senior Strategic Advisor, Bafana Khumalo.
The recently released State of South Africa’s Fathers report 2018, published by Sonke Gender Justice and the Human Sciences Research Council, highlights the importance of policy support for fathers’ involvement in young children’s lives, especially during the first thousand days (two years). This involvement can establish an emotional bond between father and child for life, significantly relieves the burden of care on mothers, and allows mothers to spend their time on income earning or leisure time.
The signing of the bill has been the result of consistent advocacy work by various groups and individuals from civil society. Due in part to pressure from Sonke Gender Justice (Sonke) in 2013, the South African White Paper on Families mandated government to investigate the feasibility of paternity leave in South Africa. In 2014 father of two Hendri Terblanche lodged a petition to parliament, this drew substantial media exposure, which Sonke supported. In 2015, Sonke, Mosaic Women’s Centre and other women’s rights organisations researched and developed a Position Paper on parenting leave via the MenCare+ programme in South Africa. The global launch of the first State of the World’s Fathers report and the MenCare Parental Leave Platform added momentum for Terblanche to develop the content for a draft bill, which was tabled and deliberated in 2016. The Sonke and Mosaic team used the Position Paper and the MenCare Parental Leave Platform as advocacy tools and facilitated the parliamentary participation of parents who had taken part in the MenCare+ programme to lobby members of parliament on promoting better parental leave.
The bill has now been approved by the president and increases the maximum amount paid for the existing maternity leave provision to 66%. It also introduces paid parental leave of 10 days for parents that do not qualify for maternity leave. Fathers make up the largest group of parents that fall in this category, so in effect paternity leave will be available. However, it’s important to note that the bill does not define it as paternity leave as it now allows for all genders and sexual orientations.
The progressive bill also introduces adoption leave of 10 weeks for surrogacy commissioning and adoptive parents, from the day of placement in the case of adoption. Two fathers who are married to each other and adopt a child will therefore qualify for ten weeks adoptive leave and ten days of paid leave respectively.
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