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Choosing between a baby and a stipend—breastfeeding teachers cut maternity leave to save jobs

Free State Grade R Teachers Maternity Leave
Written by Teboho Setlofane

Grade-R teachers in the Free State are foregoing their maternity leave, for fear of losing their jobs. The women say they are forced to leave their new-born babies to earn a stipend.

Grade R teachers in the Free State have less time to breastfeed their new-born babies because they are trying to protect their jobs.

One grade R teacher, who is also new mother, claims she was forced to return to work just a month after giving birth. She says need to save her teaching post which comes with a monthly stipend. The woman  spoke to Health-e News on condition of anonymity, fearing victimisation

“I left my one-month son and returned to work because I wanted to continue earning a stipend to provide for my family,” she said. “My baby was still young and needed breastfeeding but I was forced to choose between him and my job.”

Nurse Elisa Konyama at the Unjani Clinic in Botshabelo said on average a baby needs to breastfeed every two to three hours. She recommended that mothers breastfeed exclusively for a period of six months before introducing complimentary food. Konyama also advised mothers to take advantage of four months maternity leave they are entitled to.

But these grade R teachers in Free State say they do not have the luxury of a four or six months maternity period. Many returned to work just weeks after labour.

“I was forced to resign when I was about to give birth to my first born. The principal and the School Governing Body ordered me to resign then but I would re-apply for my job after giving birth,” said an aggrieved 35 year old mother in Botshabelo. She had to introduce soft porridge and mashed potatoes to the baby because she “could not afford to buy complimentary food.”

The teachers have now submitted a memorandum to the provincial department of education demanding to be employed permanently. This would allow them to earn benefits, including maternity leave without having to resign.

‘They are not teachers’

The Free State Department of Education, however, said grade R teachers are not their employees. The department said they cannot continue paying contracted staff who do not have full qualifications.

“They are not teachers. They are not employed by us. They are employed by the SGB,” said Free State Department of Education spokesperson, Howard Ndaba.

“Most of them they don’t even qualify to teach grade R. We have assisted them to upskill their qualifications. When the time comes they will form part of the mainstream education,” said Ndaba. “As in now they are not employed by us…they earn a stipend of about R5,000 to  R7,000 depending on their qualifications.”—Health-e News

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Teboho Setlofane