Longer leave for mothers makes sense

Warda Amrani, an employee at OmniComm, who is due in November, will soon benefit from an extended maternity leave, ahead of a review by a government committee that could see further changes to maternity law in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National
Warda Amrani, an employee at OmniComm, who is due in November, will soon benefit from an extended maternity leave, ahead of a review by a government committee that could see further changes to maternity law in the UAE. Reem Mohammed / The National

The amount of leave that new mothers receive after child birth is a contentious topic around the world. Scandinavian countries, for example, are famous for their generous amount of leave for both mothers and fathers. Their argument is compelling: new parents given ample time with their newborns are more productive workers when they return to the office and help build a stronger society. Closer to home, employees at private companies are pressuring their employers to extend maternity leave from the 45 days currently allowed under labour law.

This push makes sense for the long-term health of our economy. If done prudently, amending the laws will have several far-reaching and positive ramifications. But changing maternity leave here presents unique challenges because of the nature of our labour laws.

New mothers need to be replaced in the place of work for the time they are away. Given the slow pace at which workers are able to obtain employment visas and the cost to employers of these visas, any changes to maternity leave will require a rethink of the labour and immigration systems.

The employment visa and its processing time must be more flexible. Long processing times hurt our economy. Employers don’t have the luxury of hiring quickly as their needs change.

Additionally, permitting people already in the country to take part-time jobs would greatly increase the ability of employers to allow longer maternity leave because they could more easily find temporary workers.

Such straightforward changes would pave the way for other important changes. Sabbaticals and unpaid leave opportunities, which have proven benefits for workplace productivity, would be easier for employers if there were a pool of temporary workers who could step in.

Longer maternity leave and the possibility of sabbaticals will increase the overall productivity of the economy. As this country positions itself to be an integral member of the global knowledge economy, sensible changes to our existing labour structures are critical. We have to ensure that we operate at the most efficient and nimble standards to stay competitive. While it might seem counterintuitive, longer maternity leave will help us reach our goals.

Published: September 22, 2016 04:00 AM

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