Women workers from a range of South African trade unions and NGOs, together with the support of male union officials, met to discuss the issue of Maternity Protection. Representatives from COSATU, FEDUSA and NACTU as well as NGOs including the Labour Research Service, WageIndicator, Workers World Media Productions and ILRIG, plus a representative from the Department of Labour, noted that there were inconsistencies and omissions from the current legislation and bargaining agreements that made women feel ldquopunishedrdquo for having children.
ldquoWomen are being punished and discriminated against for practising their natural reproductive rights,rdquo said a representative from ILRIG. Women workers noted that ldquowomen’s issues are union issuesrdquo and that is was important for unions to support agreements concerning gender rights. It was also crucial to note where there gaps in legislation, and in agreements, that still made pregnancy and parenthood ldquoproblematicrdquo in the workplace.
Amongst the issues that were identified as being problematic were:
bull Difficulties in accessing the state maternity benefit fund – sometimes women were only paid out once they had already returned to work.
bull Minimal funds – some women have to rush back to work because the payments they are getting are insufficient to provide for themselves and their child.
bull Lack of compliance with existing legislation – such as providing appropriate spaces for breastfeeding, or ensuring that women got their same jobs and positions back after maternity leave.
bull Lack of support and information for women in the informal sector.
Amongst the calls to action were included:
bull A call for state funded or subsidised child care.
bull A letter to be sent to the Department of Women, Children and People with Disabilities, noting dissatisfaction.
bull Consciousness-raising sessions to be held at Trade Unions, so as to ensure that more women’s issues get onto Collective Bargaining agendas.
bull To look at establishing a state maternity fund that is separate from the UIF fund.
bull More information on general family issues, such as divorce and marriage settlements, to be made available.
What is the Labour Rights for Women (LRW) campaign?
Labour Rights for Women (LRW) is an international campaign which focuses on empowering women to defend their rights in the workplace. It also aims to strengthen women’s participation and leadership in collective bargaining and social dialogue.
The key goals of the campaign are to:
bull Increase awareness of women’s labour rights as laid down in national legislation and collective agreements. Key issues include how to combine work and motherhood, and to achieve equal rights, equal pay, decent working conditions, and measures against workplace sexual harassment.
bull Empower women workers to improve their employment situation.
bull Improve legislation and enforcement of laws protecting women’s labour rights.
In Africa, the LRW campaign runs in South Africa, Egypt, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. It is supported by Cosatu, Fedusa, Nactu and Consawu, as well as the WageIndicator Foundation.
Online and offline
There is an online and an offline component to the campaign.
The online campaign utilises the Mywage website to educate women about their labour rights. It also provides a free information service. In South Africa, the website is found at www.mywage.co.za
The offline campaign includes a series of social dialogues and mini-conferences aimed at drawing different groups together to discuss pertinent topics. These dialogues feature representatives from government, trade unionists, employers and employees and labour specialists.
Source : Congress of South African Trade Unions