Employers have opposed changes to a law which seek to double maternity leave to six months from three despite the extra period being optional and unpaid.
The Federation of Kenya Employers (FKE) says businesses cannot afford to give women the time off, and that the proposed amendments to the Employment Act could damage their careers and deny them job opportunities if it is adopted.
“Our economy cannot sustain such time-offs and the Bill is counterproductive,” said Jacqueline Mugo, executive director at FKE. “It is not that we do not understand that mothers need time with their children, but it is impractical.”
Currently, a female employee is entitled to three fully paid maternity leave on top of their statutory annual leave.
Proponents of the maternity policy say it is in line with the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) advice that babies be fed exclusively on breast milk for the first six months and then a combination of breast milk and other foods.
Breastfeeding is good for the health of the baby and lowers the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The International Labour Organisation Maternity Protection Convention recommends maternity leave for at least 18 weeks or four and a half months.
“The current provision is three months maternity leave therefore an extension of three months maternity leave will be in conformity with international best practices,” the amendment says.
Supporters of prolonged period also argue contrary to employers that it will help in the recruitment and retention of women at the work place.
Vodafone, which owns 40 per cent of Safaricom #ticker:SCOM, reviewed its leave policy in 2015 to include a 16-week fully paid maternity leave and a 30-hour week instead of 40 on full pay for the first six months.
In developing the policy, the firm commissioned audit company KPMG to explore the costs and benefits of more generous maternity benefits.
KPMG’s global analysis found that the cost of recruiting and training new employees to replace women exiting the workforce after childbirth amounted to $47 billion every year.
By comparison, the cost of offering working mothers 16 weeks of fully paid maternity leave would cost an additional $28 billion.
In Uganda, female employees are entitled to 60 working days maternity leave while in Tanzania, one ought to have been an employee for at least six months to qualify for the 84-day paid maternity leave.
In South Africa, the employer is not compelled by law to give female employees paid maternity leave but it demands that they are allowed a four-month break.
The United States is among the few countries that do not have a paid-leave law.