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UAE workers push for longer maternity leave at private firms

by CBD in CBD Insights

DUBAI // Private companies are feeling the pressure from employees to extend maternity leave from the 45 days provided under the Labour Law.

Omnicom Media Group Mena is the latest to increase leave to 90 days after pressure from its staff to give more support to mothers.

Warda Amrani, a digital account manager at the company, is expecting her first child in November, making her one of the first to benefit from its new rules.

“This is amazing news and we celebrated in the office when we found out,” said Mrs Amrani, 33, who lives in Jumeirah Heights.

“A few of us are expecting and we shared concerns about being ready to go back to work after just 45 days.

“We’re all highly career driven, so this will help us get the bonding we need with our kids and get into a regular sleeping pattern before returning to work.

“It is important we are emotionally ready. We were considering taking a month of unpaid leave for our babies, so there would have been a financial worry to contend with.”

Mrs Amrani, a Canadian, said her company also offered flexible working hours when she returned, so she could continue to breastfeed her child at home.

In July, Omnicom launched a smartphone app, OMGene, allowing staff to report problems to human resources or make anonymous suggestions. Demands on the app for longer maternity leave prompted the change.

Doctors say that babies with at least three months with their mothers have the best start to life, creating a firm maternal bond and promoting breastfeeding, which is clinically proven to improve a baby’s health.

Businesses in the private sector are not obliged to offer any more than the 45 days and women who have been working for less than a year only receive half pay.

In the public sector maternity leave varies by emirate, with Abu Dhabi Government workers receiving 60 days’ leave.

Expat Cindy Black works for Chep, a materials handling provider based in Jumeirah Lakes Towers, and said her employer increased the leave period for mothers to four months.

“We are able to extend it with annual leave or unpaid leave if we wish,” Ms Black said. “I hope the Government will implement improved maternity laws for all women.”

The UAE Gender Balance Council will review the maternity law in line with best international practices.

Dr Shiva Harikrishnan, head of obstetrics and gynaecology at Medeor 24×7 Hospital in Dubai, said that the first months with a newborn were crucial for health. “Returning to work so soon can hinder milk production in mothers, which may [mean] babies go on to bottle feeding sooner than is advisable,” Dr Harikrishnan said.

“The first few months of childhood are so very important to development, bonding and proper breastfeeding.”

Breast milk has valuable antibodies that can help to fight ­infection and anti-allergens. Doctors have associated early use of formula milk with obesity and an increased risk of diabetes.

Lucy Harvey, the GCC regional director for communications company H+K Strategies, said it was important to be flexible with mothers-to-be.

“Our average length of leave is about six months, which is a combination of statutory paid leave, holiday and unpaid leave,” Ms Harvey said.

“We have recently brought in additional paternity leave to ensure new dads also have time to enjoy with their new families.

“Before maternity leave, we talk with the individual about their plans and find a solution that really works. By collaboratively meeting the needs of our employees, male and female, we are creating a more dynamic and modern working environment.”