Should firms in UAE extend maternity leave?

Some employers are reluctant to amend leave policy due to financial reasons, according to an HR consultant

Dubai: Talks about longer maternity leave credits have again resurfaced after a company in Dubai  decided to extend the vacation entitlements for pregnant women.

Omnicom Media Group Middle East and North Africa (Mena) has increased its maternity leave to 90 days or about three months, doubling the provisions in the UAE’s labour law.  The move is part of a wider program to support the return of new mothers to the workplace.

Maternity leave is believed to have a positive impact on working women, as well as their babies, as it allows mums to bond with and breastfeed their newborn, and recover physically and mentally from birth.

Expectant women in the UAE’s private sector are entitled to 45 calendar days or about six weeks maternity leave. Whereas, in many other countries, companies provide up to 24 or even more than 40 weeks of vacation, according to a report by Mercer.

Women in Norway, for example, enjoy 49 weeks of vacation, while those in Ireland can stay out of work for 26 weeks. In Vietnam, Poland and Singapore, maternity leave entitlements can last for 24, 20 and 16 weeks, respectively.

While longer maternity leave days are seen to benefit working women,  many organisations in the UAE are reluctant to make some changes due to financial reasons.

“It’s very rare to see employers in the UAE extending the statutory leave eligibilities for their employees. The main reason for this is that companies in the UAE are solely liable to pay the salaries and benefits during the maternity leave,”  Annalinde Nickisch, HR consultant at The Thought Factory, told Gulf News.

“Whereas, in taxable environments, the cost is often shared between the woman’s employer, the government and the insurance company,” she added.

There are also other factors that are holding employers back. In most cases, companies worry about how the long absence of key employees could impact the organisation’s productivity.

“It is not solely the financial impact that would drive an employer’s decision to adhere to the statutory eligibilities, but also the effect this may have on the operations of an organisation,” added Nickisch.

Omnicom Media Group said it decided to amend its leave policy after receiving a number of requests from its staff. “This led to a policy review, which decided that the current legal provision does not necessarily allow sufficient time for a mother to truly bond and nurture her child after giving birth.”

“Research has shown that returning to work too quickly may negatively affect both m other and child, impacting the family’s wellbeing,” the company said in a statement.

Dr. Sausan Abdul Rahman, Obstetrics and Gynecology specialist at Burjeel Hospital in Abu Dhabi, said earlier that she would highly recommend longer maternity leave entitlements for women in UAE. “Breastfeeding with shorter maternity leaves usually stops after one or two months. This has a very negative impact on the child’s health and development,” Abdul Rahman said.

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