x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 28 July 2017

Sharjah expands maternity leave provisions

Paid-absence period to be increased from 45 to 60 days and allow for unpaid leave of 100 days.

SHARJAH // Members of a local political group were all smiles after a bill they proposed that would extend the legal period of paid maternity leave in the emirate was approved.

The Sharjah Consultative Council (SCC) family committee's proposal was signed into law by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah, on Sunday. A revision to a 2001 law, the new regulations extend the paid-absence period from 45 days to 60 and allow for an unpaid leave of 100 days.

"For us this bill was like a child," said Khawla al Norman, an SCC council member. "We all as women worked on it, presented it to the council, approved it and sent it to the executive council."

While the Sharjah Executive Council made some revisions to the draft bill, the end result lengthened one of the region's shortest leave provisions for working mothers. Saudi Arabia offers mothers 10 weeks of time off from work at either full or half pay, and Yemeni women can take up to 60 days off at full wages.

The issue has long been a political football in the Emirates, with some FNC officials arguing that the federal statute should be modified. Paternity leave in the UAE is often less than a week in length, and there are no allowances for parents whose infants are delivered prematurely or suffer from disabilities.

Dr Maryam Salem al Murshida, an SCC council member, said the new law will encourage women to participate in making the laws that affect them. She also said it would boost women's desire to work.

The level of participation of women in the UAE workforce is among the lowest in the world, coming in at 125th on a list of 139 countries accodrding to the World Economic Forum's Global Competitiveness 2010-2011 report. Economic analysts have said the coutry's poor ranking hinders GDP growth.

Dr Amal al Qubaisi, a FNC member who has long advocated expanding maternity leave povisions, welcomed the new law.

"We are working with the Human Resource department at a federal level to bring more rights for working women in the country," she said. "We have already made a joint study with women's unions and forwarded it to the HR department."

Khadijah Ghulam, the head of the neonatal intensive care unit at Sharjah's Al Qassimi Hospital, said the new law would even make it easier for working women to breast feed their children.

"A baby of 45 days is still very young and delicate," she said. "He or she needs the mother's full ties for at least two months."

Under the law, a mother is allotted, for one year, a post-maternity leave breast-feeding period either at the beginning of, or just before the end of, her work shift, said Fatimah al Suwaidi, the SCC council member who heads the family committee.

"This is her right and the right of the baby," she said "The law confirms it."

A number of other women's rights amendments are being worked on, and additional announcements will be made once they are approved, Ms al Suwaidi said.

ykakande@thenational.ae