Wellness & Fitness

On family issues, let every staff make decision


On matters family, employees are better off letting staff make decisions. FILE PHOTO | NMG

I thought it was a bit serious on the matter of someone wanting to get pregnant and not having their way at the office. But as an employer I have seen one or two ladies who want this maternity leave every year and they still have to be on the pay roll. Should there be any hurry in getting children or is spacing not something one can do?

You have asked a very deep and searching question which demands a careful look at a large number of issues that one does not ordinarily choose to look at.

The first is the whole question of the rights of the employee in relation to the rights of the employer. The second is the matter of family planning and its relationship to say the Employment Act and basic human rights.

A slightly more peripheral matter that comes to mind is with regard to the rights of the unborn child and the extent to which parents are the decision makers in this matter.

The other conversation that your question invites is in relation to the population growth in society in general, but more locally and recently the fact that educated women have on average fewer children than their less educated sisters.

In his very large autobiography From third world to first, the Singapore story, Lee Kuan Yew tells the story of the successes of his country.

Rather boldly, he also tells the story that almost cost him an election. Well conceived but with tragic results. There is a great deal to learn from the book, including the courage and wisdom of admitting ones’ mistakes in public life.

As Singapore prospered in the 70s, and as it became a modern society, driven by the ever increasing Gross Domestic Product (GDP), the government was alarmed to note in the early 80s that the population growth had stagnated, and the number of old people was growing rapidly.

The young were very few. The government policy on family planning was too successful (Kenya had similar policies at the time). Both were premised on the theory that fewer people sharing a cake (GDP) meant that each person had a large piece.

The more alarming finding, however, was that women with low education were producing more children than their educated counterparts. In a panic reaction, the government put in place a raft of measures that were intended to get people to have “three or more children”.

Cash and tax incentives were put in place. In further desperation, special bonus payments were made that were related to the women’s educational level. If a university graduate became pregnant, she was paid a higher bonus than her sister with ‘O’ level education.

As the government became more desperate to increase births among university educated women, it set up systems to get university educated men to marry and have children with learned women.

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For some reason, university educated men preferred to marry women without degrees.

The government held the view that the generic pool of educated women was going to waste because they did not get married and, therefore, did not have children. The country went into full panic mode.

To cure this problem, a Social Development Unit (SDU) was set up in 1984. Its mandate was “to promote socialisation among men and women graduates”. Sceptics called it “Single Desperate and Ugly Unit” (SDU).

Lee Kuan Yew faced the biggest test of his life on account of the policy which sought to tell his people who and when to marry and how many children they should have.

In his three decade rule this time represented the lowest phase as the population rebelled against the intrusion of their private space.

You as the employer are headed in that direction and my advice to you is to stop at once. Let individual women (and their families) choose on these most personal matters.

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