[WORKING IN QATAR] A long way to go for fair maternity benefits
Women still constitute a small percentage of the workforce in Qatar; Only a little over 50 percent of the women are economically productive. To encourage and retain the wealth of talent that’s available locally, laws and work places need to be more women-friendly. In the first of a series of articles on the subject, Elsbeth Blekkenhorst, writes about the maternity benefits assured by law, and makes a case for why this has to be revised.
It wasn’t so long ago that there were no laws to protect pregnant women on the job. If an employer didn’t want a pregnant woman at work, he or she could fire her. If a woman wanted to come back to work after delivering her child, there was no guarantee the job would still be there for her. Today, things have changed for the better, and there are a number of laws that will protect you during your pregnancy. If you don’t know what the law is, it certainly is possible that you can miss out on rights that are legally yours. So find out what these laws are.
In Qatar, the minimum maternity benefits according to the country’s Labour Law are:
- A working woman who spends a full one year at work with an employer deserves a fully paid maternity leave of fifty (50) days for delivery. The law states that up to 15 days of the leave can be taken before the birth, but at least 35 days must be taken after the birth before returning to work. If the medical condition of the mother prevents her from resuming her work after expiry of her leave, she will be on leave without pay. The leave cannot exceed 60 consecutive or interrupted days.
- The working woman shall be granted daily one (1) hour for lactation of her child over one year w. e .f. the end of the maternity leave.
Other countries in the GCC don’t fare much better, either. The UAE offers a statutory leave for private sector employees that allows for 45 days of leave with full pay – including days used before birth. The mother is then entitled to be absent from work for 100 days (without pay) on the expiration of her leave. In Saudi Arabia, women who have been under contract for over a year are entitled to four weeks of leave immediately prior to expected delivery date, followed by a subsequent six weeks of leave at half-pay (full-pay if they have over three years of service).
Worldwide there are different laws when it comes to maternity leave. National laws vary widely according to the politics of each jurisdiction. A brief overview:
A large majority of countries provide more than 10 paid weeks of maternity leave. Only four provide none, these are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland and the United States (yes, you read that right). “163 countries give women paid leave with the birth of a child”. Central European countries have the longest parental leave regulations in the world regarding parental leave. The most generous country is Sweden.
- Sweden provides working parents with an entitlement of 16 months paid leave per child at 80 percent pay, the cost being shared between employer and the state.
- In the UK, female employees are entitled to 52 weeks of maternity (or adoption) leave, 39 weeks of which is paid, planned to rise to 52 weeks paid, with the first six weeks paid at 90% of full pay and the remainder at a fixed rate.
- Australia has introduced an 18 week paid parental leave scheme which is publicly funded and provides the federal minimum wage (currently A$596.78 per week) rather than a percentage of the primary caregiver’s salary.
- In 2000, parental leave was greatly expanded in Canada from 10 weeks to 35 weeks divided as desired between two parents. This is in addition to 15 weeks maternity leave. In most situations, a combination of maternity and parental benefits can be received up to a combined maximum of 50 weeks.
Legal requirements for parental leave benefits do not always reflect actual practice. In some countries with relatively weak requirements, individual employers choose to provide benefits beyond those required by law. Others just stick to what it is in the law and that’s it.
Maternity leave is not charity; it’s a need
Some might wonder but maternity leave is there for a good reason. It will give the family the opportunity to unite, relax, and be together as a family before work and family spill over is introduced. Paid family leave will help out the company by saving money on training and recruitment. This will lead to higher job satisfaction and in return will lead to better work productivity.
But until now, with laws being in place women worry about going on maternity leave. In the struggle between leaning in and being the perfect mom, women are reporting high amounts of anxiety about stepping away from work. According to a survey conducted by a recruitment firm in the UK, more than 70 percent of women fear that pregnancy is a career liability.
An even higher percentage felt that pregnancy threatened their chances of receiving a promotion. To open up the conversation, more open and direct communication between women and their employers should be encouraged. To foster greater bonds between a mother and her baby by adapting work schedules and introducing more flexible work environments; to allow women or their partners to work from home during the pivotal years of a child’s development — those are just two conversations that we all could benefit from having. Both seem a lot more sensible than ignoring the real concerns of an enormously capable and accomplished workforce.
National Development Strategy 2011–2016
Flex time, part time, special leave, and nurseries at the workplace are part of Qatar’s National Development Strategy 2011-2016. Family is the core of Qatar’s society and therefore well-taken care off. An increasing number of companies, both local and international are revising their policies and procedures resulting in taking a more flexible approach and providing better facilities to cater for new mums. But still, there is a long way to go.
The author is co-founder and managing director of Global Women Qatar, which was established in January 2012 as Qatar’s first employment agency to focus exclusively on the recruitment of women who already reside in Qatar.