ABU DHABI // Parents welcomed extended maternity leave for Government workers and called for private sector businesses to follow suit.
Changes in the law gives Government employees in Abu Dhabi three months maternity leave instead of two, however, the three days offered to fathers was not so joyously received.
Mothers will be allowed two hours off each day to take care of newborns, starting from the day of birth. Previously it was one hour. However, the period it applies to has been cut from 18 months to a year.
Hicham Boumzough’s wife is due to give birth in January. “Hopefully the law will soon change for all expats working in the UAE,” said the Moroccan.
“It should be equal rights for all workers, not just those who work in Government.”
Mr Boumzough works in the private sector for Mott MacDonald in Abu Dhabi and has been offered three days paid leave when the baby arrives. He would like to see paternity leave extended to a week.
“I’m not the one who is suffering, so I can manage, although a week would be better so I can help my wife,” he said.
“My wife is worried about going back to work after just 45 days, at such an important time.
“It will be very difficult as we have no family here and childcare is very expensive.
“We may have to go back to Morocco. It is something that we are talking about every day.”
David Mackenzie, managing director of the Mackenzie Jones group in Dubai and founder of Mums@work, which helps mothers back into work, wants longer paternity leave.
“I’m a dad of two and I know how important that time is immediately after a birth,” he said.
“Men are called back to work almost immediately after a new baby arrives, so they can miss out on that important period of bonding.
“We need to look at it in a more holistic way, so it is not about taking time off but addressing the work-life balance.
“It is important for dads to be able to take a day off in the week, if needed, to help take pressure off the wife. Many companies here are embracing the idea of flexible working hours.”
In Ajman and Ras Al Khaimah, public and private sector workers get a mandatory 45-day maternity leave period, but Sharjah allows expats and Emiratis to take 60 days. New fathers there are also entitled to the statutory three days off.
Although fathers in the United States are not guaranteed any parental leave, it is different in Europe. Iceland offers 120 days, Sweden 60 and Finland 54. In Norway, fathers can choose to take 26 fully paid weeks off, or 36 weeks on 80 per cent pay.
Louise Karim, managing director of Mums@Work, hopes Abu Dhabi’s ruling will help change perceptions on maternity leave.
“Hopefully this example will be extended to other emirates and the private sector, sooner rather than later,” she said.
“From personal experience, I know the 45-day period is not enough.”