The fact that maintaining a healthy balance between work and parenting is a challenge for many working parents, led to PhD graduate Dr Asheelia Behari researching how labour laws and policies must become more family-friendly.
For her study titled: The Reconciliation of Work and Care – A Comparative Analysis of South African Labour Laws Aimed at Providing Working Parents with Time off to Care, Law academic Behari studied colleague female attorneys.
It soon became apparent to Behari that women employees were more heavily burdened with caregiving responsibilities than their male counterparts, so she set out to investigate how this could be remedied from a labour law perspective.
‘I was initially drawn to this area for its social and legal perspective on gender roles in the workplace. Many working women are unable to reconcile their workplace responsibilities as they are still considered to be the primary caregivers for their families. Gendered assumptions lead to a conflict in the household and the workplace roles of both women and men,’ says Behari.
Apart from the achievement of gender equality and the accommodation of pregnancy in the workplace, Behari argues that factors which necessitate the legislative reconciliation of work and care in South Africa are the consequences of the HIV and AIDS epidemic on families which places a care burden on working employees – and the need to promote fatherhood in South Africa through the provision of time off from work for fathers to care for their children.
She further states that gaps identified in current labour legislation include the exclusion of specified categories of employees from receiving maternity cash benefits; the lack of guaranteed maternity cash benefits; the failure to provide employees with statutory rights to adoption leave, paternity leave and/or parental leave; the failure to provide statutory rights to breastfeeding arrangements at the workplace, and the failure to a statutory right to request flexible working arrangements to provide care.
‘My thesis conducts in-depth analyses of international and regional labour laws against the laws of the United Kingdom and South Africa. The research indicates that the labour legislation of South Africa which provides employees with employment rights and protections to take time off from work to attend to caregiving responsibilities is inadequate. Laws and policies aimed at the reconciliation of work and care necessitate the statutory recognition of time off from work for employees to attend to their family responsibilities. Labour laws must be used to restructure working time through the incorporation of family-friendly policies, with particular emphasis on statutory leave provisions,’ explains Behari.
As an admitted Attorney, with four peer-reviewed publications within the area of Labour Law under her name, Behari aims to use the PhD degree to progress as a lecturer of Law. ‘It has allowed me to develop a specialised area of legal research which I can teach to future legal professionals and continue to interrogate through publications. I feel fortunate to have completed a PhD thesis so early on in my life that I can use it as the foundation for a future of productive legal research and writing. I am still in my 20’s and envision that the degree will be groundwork upon which I continue to pursue legal academics,’ she said.
Graduating at the age of 29, Behari says that she is excited that she will get to share the title of doctor with her husband, Dr Aneeth Sadanand, a Medical Doctor.
Words: Thandiwe Jumo