Gender Gender

Employment Code Act – A must-read

Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA
EVERY working woman should get hold of the Employment Code Act 2019 which came into effect last week. It contains some progressive benefits for them.
The working women are often denied some of her rights, even when they exist in black and white, because of their ignorance of what is there for them.
With this law in place, women should not suffer out of ignorance. The law is in their favour.
The challenges a working woman faces, especially a nursing mother, are some of the aspects that have been taken care of in the Employment Code Act.
Among the highlights of the Act is the extension of maternity leave from 12 to 14 weeks. During this period, a mother does not lose her salary or any other entitlements that go with her job.
The Act also shows that maternity leave for mothers who bring twins into this world has been extended from 12 to 16 weeks.
A mother who gives birth to twins enjoys a longer maternity leave than one who delivers a single baby.
The coming of a baby into a family is accompanied by some challenges such as taking care of or breastfeeding the baby for a woman whose work schedule requires her to be in the office from 08:00 hours to 17:00 hours.
The challenge assumes a higher proportion for a working mother and much more so when she delivers twins.
Such a mother cannot depend on a single maid, if she has to leave home and get to work on a daily basis. In some cases, it is easier for a family to depend on a relative to assist with the caring of the babies, but some cases dictate otherwise.
A family may have to depend on hiring a nanny, whose duty would be to solely look after the babies.
The extension of the maternity leave gives the babies more time for the babies to grow by the time the mother gets back to work.
The challenges that accompany the coming of a baby into a family can sometimes result in the working mother separating from her work to concentrate on taking care of the infant.
However, for many families, the economic situation dictates that a working woman holds on to her job to contribute to the household income.
The new provisions in the Act should be seen in light of all the challenges the working woman faces and as a way of making the working environment better for her.
Where a mother resumes work, there is a provision for her to take time off, two 30-minute breaks or one hour to breastfeed the infant for a period of up to six months from the time the baby is born and without any loss of pay for those hours.
The push for exclusive breastfeeding for six months has been on for some time now and the provision of the breaks for women is an opportunity to ensure the better health of babies.
Though some women resort to formula feed as an alternative for their babies when they return to work, the benefits of breast milk outshine those of formula milk.
In fact, a number of formulas acknowledge the fact that breast milk is better and this they make clear on the label, thanks to campaigners like La Leche League who advocate exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
While this provision comes in the absence of crèche facilities at most places of work (if babies have to be taken for breastfeeding), it is, however, a progressive move.
Where it is feasible, a mother can get home to breastfeed within the one hour that is provided for.
It is commendable that the law has considered the plight of mothers thus far.
Some women are engaged in work that requires long hours of standing or doing some other such heavy work and this may not change much during their third trimester.
The Act also takes care of mothers who are nursing an infant less than six months old by allowing them to work only during the day, for those who may be in a job that demands them to work at night.
And the Act is a buffer to prevent women who are heavily pregnant from working in the night. This is for their own safety.
One of the most guarded secrets by some employers is mother’s day, which is a must for every woman engaged in formal employment.
For their own convenience, some employers keep this entitlement away from female employees while they make the most of their labour.
Though the entitlement has been abused by some female employees, there are instances where the employer does not even talk about it.
While these are some of the highlights the Act offers to women, a working woman may do well to get hold of a copy and read its contents.
We know that the reading culture among Zambians ranks low but they will only ignore reading this Act to their detriment.
It is said that knowledge is power. So let the women empower themselves by reaching out for a copy of the Act and read its contents.
It should not be said of Zambian women that if you want to hide something from them, keep it in a book.
Zambian women are literate and it is their duty to add to their knowledge on matters that concern them, like the provisions of this Act.
If women can find time to watch Telemundo or Zeeworld, it should not take them more time to read the Act than they spend watching the television dramas.
It is for their own good that when they walk into an office as new employees or they are getting back to their place of work, they know what they are entitled to so that they operate within those bounds. The Act draws bounds that both employer and employee should not go beyond while promoting a harmonious atmosphere at a place of work so that both parties meet each other half-way.
No one should go away a loser.
The Act is also a recognition of the special role women play in a family set-up but at the same time that their contribution to the socio-economic development of the nation matters.
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