Social justice and equal treatment for pregnant women in the workplace

Date: February 14, 2014
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This thesis critically evaluates the position of pregnant women (and women who have recently given birth) in the context of South African Labour Law and social security law, from both a comparative and a South African perspective. The fact that women fall pregnant and give birth to children, while men do not, raises issues of theoretical and practical importance in regard to equality issues. Pregnancy has historically been both the cause of and the occasion for the exclusion of many women from the workplace because of the practical difficulties many women face in reconciling the demands of paid work with family responsibilities – although there is no logical reason why women’s giving birth to children necessarily means that they should have primary responsibility for childcare. The underlying premise which underpins the subject matter of this thesis is that pregnant women are unfairly discriminated against in the workplace. While it cannot be denied that men and women are different and that the biological fact of pregnancy is a state unique to women, this “difference” has resulted in gender discrimination, and, more germane to this thesis, in pregnancy discrimination in the jurisdictions to be considered, namely, the United Kingdom, the European Union, SADC and South Africa. This thesis concentrates on various issues pertaining to pregnancy and maternity protection and emphasises the seemingly irreconcilable dichotomy between the desire to recognise and accommodate women’s unique role as child-bearers and the desire to achieve parity between the sexes in regard to conditions of employment, remuneration and general benefits. The central dilemma is whether women can be treated as equal to men in regard to opportunities, entry to the workplace and remuneration, on the one hand, and yet be treated in a special way when it concerns childbearing and childrearing, on the other. In this thesis it is argued that men and women are different and that social justice cannot therefore be achieved by equal treatment. In facing this challenge, legislatures and courts have become ensnared in the dichotomy of equality and distinction, and the question considered here is whether South Africa is fulfilling its constitutional and international obligations regarding the equal treatment, and the granting to them of equal opportunities and reasonable accommodation. This thesis develops an appropriate and relevant paradigm for pregnant women in the workplace. It identifies and highlights the existing deficiencies and lacunae in the South African legal system inherent in both labour law and social security law, and develops proposals for the possible amendment of the existing legislative framework by drawing largely on international, supranational, foreign and regional jurisdictions and by critically evaluating the current South African maternity terrain, particularly in the light of South Africa’s developing constitutional jurisprudence.

Publisher: University of Johannesburg
Year of Publication: 2012

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