What South African dads need to know about their new right to paternity leave

If your baby is due soon, you’ll be happy to hear that dad can now take 10 days off work to help you and your new baby get settled at home.


President Cyril Ramaphosa officially signed the Labour Laws Amendment Bill into law late last year (2018). It stipulates that working South African fathers are entitled to 10 days paternity leave after the birth of their child.

The act also makes provision for leave of up to ten weeks when parents adopt or assume surrogacy for a child under the age of two. However, this leave is only granted to one parent.

The role of fathers

“Medical journals are awash with articles on how important a father’s role is during early childhood development. And, of course, the biggest gift a father can give to a new mother is a little bit of help,” says Marelize Meintjes, Family Law Specialist and Director at Faure & Faure Inc.

ALSO SEE: The importance of a dad’s role in a child’s development, according to science

“Fathers who foster a bond with their child during infancy are laying the foundations for a strong, secure, long-term relationship. Society as a whole has also reached a more liberal attitude towards child rearing and we are now starting to recognise parenting is a task intended for two. It is, therefore, important for fathers to know how the Act affects them.

How paternity leave will work now

In the past, fathers who wanted to be with their newborn and partner had to take family responsibility leave, which was limited to three days per annual cycle (paid leave), or they had to use their annual leave days for this privilege. Family responsibility leave is only available after being employed for four months or longer.

Now, fathers are entitled to take leave from the day their child is born.

“Even though fathers now have rights that enable them to be more involved with early parenting, they must not forget that the new laws do still take their employer’s interests into account,” says Marelize. “They must notify their employers in writing within at least one month of the expected date of birth of their intention to take leave.”

Another factor to take into account is the matter of money.

“Section 12 of the Unemployment Insurance Act of 2001 (UIA) was also amended to provide that parental benefits must be paid at a rate of 66% of the earnings of the beneficiary at the date of the application, subject to the maximum income threshold,” explains Marelize.

It is also worth noting that section 26B of the Unemployment Insurance Act of 2001 now also provides that an application for parental benefits must be made in the prescribed form at an employment office and within 12 months after the date of the child’s birth.

When will it actually be implemented?

“President Ramaphosa signed the Labour Laws Amendment Act at the end of November 2018. At the time it was widely published in the media that the changes would come into effect on the 1st of January 2019. This was also confirmed by the ACDP MP Cherellyn Dudley, who introduced the amendments as a private members Bill. Unfortunately, the date was not, as expected, fixed by the President by proclamation in the Government Gazette. The changes didn’t come into effect as yet, but we can expect to see the law’s implementation in the near future. Hopefully dads (and moms) will enjoy the benefits of paternity leave soon,” says Adv. Kaiel Grobler from LIPCO – Law For All.

Maternity leave

Maternity leave is usually a four-month period of unpaid leave. The mother remains employed for this period and her position must be reserved. She can also claim a part of her salary from the Unemployment Insurance Fund. Some employers do, however, pay their employees partially or in full during maternity leave.

ALSO SEE: How South Africa’s maternity leave compares internationally

“The birth of one’s child and parenthood are two of the most incredible events in any person’s life,” says Marelize. “Our laws may still be lagging behind those of countries like India (where fathers are entitled to three weeks of fully paid paternity leave), but this is nonetheless an exciting step in the right direction.”

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