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Tue 22 Nov 2011 07:53 PM

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Women split on Gulf maternity leave policies

Execs fear working mothers could abuse the system, others say leave period too short

Women split on Gulf maternity leave policies
Delegates at the first Arabian Business Womens Forum
Women split on Gulf maternity leave policies
Delegates at the first Arabian Business Womens Forum
Women split on Gulf maternity leave policies
Delegates at the first Arabian Business Womens Forum

Women in the UAE are split over whether working mothers should receive a longer period of paid maternity leave, with some critics warning employees could abuse child-friendly policies.

Mothers-to-be in most Gulf countries are entitled to less than two months of paid leave after giving birth; significantly less than the minimum six month stretch offered in many Western states.

 “Some people take it for granted,” said Nadia Al Khan, managing director of Dubai-based Unasco, on the sidelines of the Arabian Business Women’s Forum. “I have a mother working for me right now, she got six months, and now she’s asking for an extra two months.

[Click here for pictures of the event]

“As a businessperson it is frustrating, being a woman I get frustrated. There should be a balance. You get what you have, and if you need more time, accept it without pay and then get back to work as a professional, regardless of your race or your gender.”

Under UAE law, women who have worked for a company for a year or more are entitled to 45 days maternity leave with full pay. Those who have worked for less than 12 months are entitled to the same period with half pay.

The issue was pushed into the limelight after a 2008 ruling slashed maternity leave entitlement by more than three months. The UAE had previously granted new mothers two months' full-paid leave, two months of half salary leave, and two months of unpaid leave.

Federal National Council member Amal Al Qubaisi has since called for the review of the new laws, arguing they discourage Emiratis from having children in a state that is already 80 percent expatriate.

Many mothers – both local and expat – agree that the new laws make women’s lives extremely difficult.

“I honestly think the 45 days for maternity is just not adequate,” said mother-of-four Ayesha Abdullah, managing director of the sciences cluster in Tecom Business Parks.

“A lot of career-orientated women are foregoing motherhood because there isn’t the flexibility. If you take time off work you lose your position. Women tend to be very grateful when companies give them a break.”

An expectant expatriate mother from the UK, who asked not to be named, said the laws put new mothers in a difficult position.

“As a British expat, if I was back home, I would have had six months to a year off, so 45 days is quite poor in comparison. Fortunately my employers are a bit better and give me longer,” she said.

“I can take up to three months, and then I’m on reduced hours when I go back for another three months. But I’m fortunate. I don’t know how women who have to go back after 45 days actually cope, in terms of having a new baby and being expected to go back and work full time hours.”

Lawyers say the regulation does provide some additional time-off for new mums, where women can prove they are suffering from an illness.

“Following the leave period an employee can take a hundred days of unpaid absence, if they can provide a medical certificate,” said Bronwyn Colgan a senior associate at Clyde and Co, specialising in employment law. “It doesn’t matter whether you have been there for a year or not in this case.”

Reports have suggested the UAE government could introduce legislation to extend parental leave, but no official ruling has been made.

In the meantime, some companies in the Gulf state have made efforts to provide nurseries close to offices, and offering flexible working hours to new mothers.

Tecom, which operates eleven free zones in Dubai, offers reduced hours to women who are breastfeeding and flexible working times. Women comprise some 70 percent of the company’s workforce.

 “I know from my colleagues they face difficulties with not breast feeding. Psychologically, [she’s having problems], not just about this but about her husband but everything. If she had a nursery close, she could bring her maid [who could take the baby to the nursery],” said Maryam Althani, a projects engineering manager at Ducab.

“I am not married but I have been fighting for a nursery. Some local people are against this – it’s not the government, the government are launching initiatives to help women.” 

For all the latest industry news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Mani 8 years ago

Al though it is genuine requirement but, few women to to exploit this and abuse it. We had one colleague, shewas non performing and knew she would be fired hence she started playing up that she was unwell from the 6th month and the company had sympathy to her and then gave her a desk job and then even in that she was underperforming she then gave various excuses and as a grand finale said after the delivery of the baby she will bounce back hence was given all benefits and after she came back she said her child needs her hence, can not work and wanted to resign and soon as she had done that she joined another company. She had been the most thankless employee I had ever seen, she robbed the company of 12 months of money and benefits, not to mention the huge medical insurance bill the company ended up paying as higher premium till date.

RaF 7 years ago

Mani, the problem you outline is an employee behavior issue, not a maternity leave issue. You are confounding the two, which is disingenuous. It is not fair to deny hard-working women their right to reasonable maternity leave to raise their children, on whom our collective future depends, because of one problem employee. Moreover, the said employee was quite right that her child needed her. If she had been given a longer period of maternity leave, she would not have had to choose between her job and raising her child - which is precisely the issue being raised in the above article.

RaF 7 years ago

45 days is not long enough, by any means, if we really want to provide our children with the best possible start in life, support the family unit, and encourage a healthy society. But let's not forget, the US offers zero unpaid maternity leave. The Gulf states are at the lower end of the scale when compared globally (Canada offers 50 weeks), but no doubt progress will be made on this front, as it should elsewhere in the world.

procan 7 years ago

Hi! RaF your correct now here in Canada , minor point 52 weeks and it may split between Husband or Wife or same sex couples or adoption .It may be started before the birth if desired.Federal and province levels of Government provide additional monthly for care money.Currently we are still working on universal child care program.The province of Quebec has a more generous program available witch I am not up to speed on .Although I am not suggesting our current Baby Boomlet is a result of these programs,I am just saying.

Rainigade 7 years ago

I am always appalled when I see companies setting policy based on the small % of people who try to abuse the system, rather than the large % of employees who are hard working, motivated and need to be looked after. I say, you've either hired wrong or handled the employee's performance issues wrong, or kept an employee on for too long if you have such problems.

Lets be very clear that performance issues are not maternity leave issues.

The fact is, being a recent working mother myself, from Europe - 45 days is not enough. My employer gave me the 45 days at full pay (per the law) and an additional 45 days at half pay. I was grateful, came back fully ready to work and in the year that followed, have been promoted.

Imagine what I would accomplish if I was given the 90 days at full pay. My motivation levels would be through the roof, because I wouldn't be worrying about finances.

Look after your employees and they will look after your bottom line. It really is that simple.

RAH 7 years ago

Your article's title is misleading. This is the UAE's maternity leave policy and not the Gulf's.

Here's Kuwait's maternity leave policy, as an example:

Kuwait's 2010 Labor Law for the Priavte Sector:

Article 24: "A pregnant woman will get a 70-day paid leave…She can also avail of not more than 4 months unpaid leave, upon her request. Employers should not terminate the service of a woman while she is on maternity leave.."

Bottom line? 6 months and 10 days guaranteed job security to a mother giving birth.. Furthermore:

Article 25: "grants working women 2 hours break from the normal work hours to nurse her baby… The employer must establish a nursery for children below four years old in the event where the number of female workers exceeds 50 or the number of workers exceeds 200."

Yes.. Europe and the West are far ahead, but the Gulf is catching up as evident by Kuwait's maternity leave policy.

Worldnomad 7 years ago

Yes Canada does have very generous maternity/paternity benefits, but this has come at a price. I worked in HR in a large Canadian firm, women of childbearing age who did not already have their children (2 children is considered the norm) were often excluded or considered last when filling vacancies. We had several experiences when the new mother would be off for a year, return to work, announce she was pregnant, work for a few months then have another year off. It was difficult to continue the work with temp employees, and after a nearly 2 year absence the returning employee would need retraining. While the benefit is great for new mothers, it was a double edged sword for women of child bearing age.