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Why employers should support the proposed breastfeeding law

EDITORIAL
By Perminus Wainaina | July 25th 2017
Breastfeeding mothers at Pumwani Hospital grounds during the celebrations of World's Breastfeeding Week (Photo: Courtesy)

Larissa Waters, an Australian Member of Parliament, became a global sensation when she was pictured breastfeeding her three-month baby, Alia Joy, while contributing to a motion. Traditionally, baby nursing has been restricted to a home setting, but the issue of how employers should treat breastfeeding women needs to be addressed. Last month the Kenya National Assembly passed the Health Bill, which among other things, requires employers to provide space and facilities for mothers at work. While some local companies have provided breastfeeding rooms, this is the first time such a provision has been written into law.

Notably, the Institute of Human Resource Management (IHRM) has opposed the new bill, claiming it's "capable of marginalising women of childbearing age". IHRM fears that employers will shun women of childbearing age, because having them will add to operational costs.

Benefits

Employers stand to benefit by creating a conducive environment for breastfeeding mothers. Happy employees lead to increased output. If you have experienced employees take maternity leave and return to work, you probably noticed a lull in the new mothers' daily duties. If not, you can expect to notice a difference in their work approach, opinions and general interactions at the office.

But don't get this wrong, the difference has nothing to do with their performance. They'll probably deliver their usual quality work, but it may be presented in a way you are not used to. In Kenya, the Employment Act only allows mothers to take three months off as maternity leave. It is then natural that breastfeeding mothers worry about the safety of their children while they are away. They are mostly thinking about leaving the office to go and breastfeed. So imagine the burden you would lift off your employees if you adhered to the new breastfeeding Bill. 

More fundamentally, when an employee wants a day off from work, they come to you with all manner of reasons. When it comes to breastfeeding mothers, this time off may be taken more times than appears necessary. And most times, the employee will call in sick, ask for the afternoon off, or apply for several sick-off days. This will only lead to more difficulties for you as an employer. So, despite your reservations, you go ahead and give permission for the employee to be absent from work.

Breastfeeding mothers

The new Breastfeeding Mothers Bill will help reduce the time a new mother is absent from work. Furthermore, do you know those specialized skilled workers that your company cannot afford to lose? Those employees in key positions who are really hard to replace? The positions that your company would lose a lot of money for if the employees were to resign?

Every company has such employees. If they are women of childbearing age and your company does not facilitate their comfort, you might end up losing them. They might decide to quit for the wellness of their new babies, or move to competitors who provide facilities for breastfeeding mothers. Finally, this Bill is about reputation. As an employer, your aim is to be at the lead when it comes to your competitors. You don't want them to win, and you would do whatever it takes to be in first position and keep it there as long as you can.

When your firm makes the list of top reputable employers, you get to work with top clients, attract top talent, and can charge top dollar for all your products and services. As a reputable brand, trust for doing business will come easy. So how does the breastfeeding Bill improve your company's reputation? Today, people want to work with organisations that care about their employees. By adhering to the newly approved bill, you can expect people to find your company more likeable and recommend it to clients and potential employees.

Generally speaking, this Bill is more about winning than losing. At first glance, it may appear it will increase costs for employers, but the return on investment (ROI) will be totally worth it.

Mr Wainaina is the Managing Partner and Head of Recruitment at Corporate Staffing Services Ltd. [email protected]

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