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Mothers at work


Most working women don’t have it easy. They work a long day. Then they go home and have a million things to do. Most working women don’t have any trouble falling asleep at night!

And when a working woman falls pregnant, her life doesn’t get easier. Pregnant women often don’t feel well – but they must still work the same hours. They must still lift and carry things.

The bosses don’t help much. How many bosses give pregnant women time off for check ups? And how many bosses give pregnant women easier or safer jobs?

Some bosses even give pregnant workers harder jobs. “In some companies the bosses move pregnant women from the shops to the ware­houses,” says an organizer from the Commercial, Catering and Allied Workers Union (CCAWUSA). “The bosses don’t think pregnant women look nice. In the warehouse the work is harder.”

And when a woman leaves to have a baby, she often loses her job. And we know how scarce jobs are these days!

Some women do get their jobs back ­ but they suffer in other ways. Many bosses will treat the woman like a new worker. She will get lower wages. And she will lose her benefits. For example, she will start her pension savings all over again.

Many mothers go back to work soon after they have their babies – because they want to save their jobs. And then the baby will suffer. The baby won’t get enough care. Every baby needs care. The baby won’t get enough breast milk. And every baby needs a lot of breastmilk.

CCAWUSA has begun to fight for workers. This union has 30 thousand members – and most of these workers are women.

“Having a child shouldn’t be a problem,” says Emma Mashinini from CCAWUSA. “It is part of life. Employers must help pregnant women.”

A few months ago, CCAWUSA won some rights for pregnant women at the OK Bazaars, CNA and Woolworths. In June the OK Bazaars agreed that:

  1. Women workers can take up to a years’ leave to have a baby. (This is called maternity leave.)

  2. They will not lose their jobs.

  3. They will get the same wage when they go back to work. They will also get an increase if the other workers got an increase.

  4. Pregnant women wiII not do jobs that are dangerous for their health.

  5. Women on maternity leave will still belong to the Pension Fund. They will not lose anything.

  6. When a woman goes on maternity leave, the company will give the woman all the papers they need to get U.I.F. money.

  7. The women must work for three months before she can get mater­nity leave.

The women at the OK did not win these rights easily. In August last year 700 workers at three OK warehouses went on strike. They called for higher wages. And they wanted the bosses to talk to their union.

But the bosses didn’t listen. They fired all the workers. Then workers in 12 0K shops in Johannesburg stopped work. And in Natal workers warned their bosses they would also stop working.

Then the bosses listened. All the workers get their jobs back. They got more money. And the bosses agreed to speak to the union.

But the bosses were slow to give women maternity leave. “They only agreed to give women maternity leave after another strike in Port Elizabeth,” says a union organizer. “The bosses knew the workers were united – and they knew we were ready to fight for our needs. They agreed to give maternity leave to all women workers – even white women as well.”

The maternity agreement at CNA is nearly the same as the OK agreement. At the CNA women can take six months maternity leave. But they will get an extra 12 days off to take their children to a doctor.

“Now CCAWUSA wants to get maternity agreements at all big companies where we have members,” says the union organizer. “Already the struggle is easier. The struggle at the OK Bazaars shows other bosses what can happen at their own company.”

And now workers in other trade unions are talking about maternity leave. So in the future we will see many more struggles to make the lives of working women easier.


Many countries have laws to protect pregnant women. Women in these countries get a long maternity leave. And they get their jobs back after they have a baby. Some countries give time off each day for breast feeding. Other countries even give leave to fathers when their children are born.

South Africa has some laws for pregnant workers – but this is not much. In South Africa pregnant workers can’t work in the four weeks before they have a baby. And they can’t work for eight weeks after they have a baby.

Pregnant women can also get some money when they are pregnant. But they will not get their full wage. They will get just under half their salary. They get this money from the Unemployment Insurance Fund (U.I.F.).

Pregnant women will only get money from the U.I.F. if they have worked for at least 18 weeks before the birth of the baby. Pregnant women can get U.I.F. money 18 weeks before the birth of the baby and eight weeks after the birth. But a woman will only get one week’s money for every six weeks she has worked. So women can only get the full 26 weeks U.I.F. money after they have worked for three years.

Before you go to the U.I.F. office, you must ask your boss to give you your U.I.F. card. At the U.I.F. office, they will give you a form to fill in. The form is called the U.F .92. On the form you will also find a medical certificate – you must take this back to your doctor to fill in. You must fill in the form as soon as you can. You will only get the money after you have filled in the form .


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