x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Extra maternity leave needed in UAE 'for national security'

FNC member says low birthrate is a threat to the national security in a country where expatriates constitute more than 80 per cent of the population.

ABU DHABI // Raising the birthrate is a matter of national security, a female FNC member said yesterday. Amal al Qubaisi, a representative of Abu Dhabi, appealed to the Government to give federal employees longer maternity leaves. The current leave periods in the public and private sectors amount to a threat to the nation's security because, she claimed, they discouraged women from having babies in a country where the minority status of Emiratis is a major concern.

"The daughters of this nation are asking you to reconsider this issue today, before tomorrow," Ms al Qubaisi told an FNC meeting. More than 80 per cent of the population is made of expatriates, according to most estimates. "This is against national security and public interest," Ms al Qubaisi said. "Our number is decreasing and current laws don't encourage having children. Asking women to have more babies doesn't mean discouraging them from working."

While life expectancy rose from 73 years in 1990 to 78 by 2007, the birth rate fell by almost half over the same period, from 4.4 children per woman to 2.3, according to the latest World Health Organisation statistics. Fertility rates have been falling in the UAE for three decades, but the sharp decline prompted calls for Emirati women to be given incentives to have larger families. Ms al Qubaisi said the fertility rate among nationals stood at 1.9 per woman last year. She did not cite any sources. Maternity leave here, Ms al Qubaisi said, was significantly shorter than in several other countries, including Egypt.

She said a 2008 law reduced maternity leave for federal employees to 60 days. She said an obsolete law drafted in 2001 gave women six months of leave, half of which was unpaid. Women in the private sector get 45 days of leave. Humaid al Qattami, the Minister of Education and chairman of the Federal Human Resources Authority, said an appendix to a new law was being prepared and would give mothers the chance to take up to 100 days of unpaid leave in addition to 60 paid days.

Of the 43,000 federal employees, 22,000, or 51 per cent, are women. Mr al Qattami said the new law also gave mothers a two-hour daily break for four months after the end of the leave. But Ms al Qubaisi complained the law did not take into account babies born with disabilities, premature babies or cases where babies die shortly after they are born. She also added that the law did not deal with the length of the father's leave if the mother dies.

Mr al Qattami said some of these concerns could be dealt with in the appendix. mhabboush@thenational.ae