x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Maternity leave ranks among world's shortest

Ros Alston, 28, was not ready to resume her management position for a property company after her paid maternity leave was up.

Ros Alston with her son, Rex. Ms Alston took time off without pay to add to her maternity leave.
Ros Alston with her son, Rex. Ms Alston took time off without pay to add to her maternity leave.

Ros Alston, 28, was not ready to resume her management position for a property company after her paid maternity leave was up. "They give us six weeks and I just thought that was not really long enough," she said. Luckily, she was able to take the unpaid time her company offered before returning to her job. "Three months for me was perfect," she said, now the working mother of a 17-month-old boy.

The UAE has one of the shortest official maternity leaves in the world - 45 days of paid leave after one year of continuous service plus an option of longer unpaid leave. Although more than three years ago a draft labour law proposed adding to the leave by offering 45 days paid plus 55 more at half pay, the document has not been put forward for approval and the 1980 UAE Labour Law remains in place.

Now, one of 12 new recommendations submitted to the Government, and the governments of the rest of the GCC, is to extend maternity leave to 14 weeks. Experts say a shorter leave interferes with a mother's ability to breastfeed and further bond with her child, and puts a strain on women forced to choose between their livelihoods and the needs of their babies. The International Labour Organisation recommends an 18-week leave, said Elaine Cote, human rights programme officer at the Geneva Infant Feeding Association.

"It's important for a mother to rest, it's tiring to have a baby," she said. Some countries, such as Britain, have six months of maternity leave, others, such as Canada, have up to one year. In context, Ms Cote said, the leave in the UAE was "really pretty low". "If you want women to have babies, you have to organise a system. You say it's their problem or you say it's the collective problem of society."

Maja Borchers, 33, from Germany, has four-year-old twins and another baby, 18 months old, and is getting ready to go back to work. Although she chose to stay at home with her twins while living in Oman, she might have returned to work after giving birth to her third baby in Abu Dhabi if the maternity leave was longer. Breastfeeding was a secondary issue, she said. Having time at home with her new baby was the priority.

The short maternity leave, combined with a dearth of part-time jobs, she said, kept qualified women out of work. "I know how it is here, you don't really get leave time," she said. "You are expected back on the job. The rules are not very good." amcqueen@thenational.ae