Landmark Judgment: Equalizing Parental Leave Rights in South Africa

Nov 8, 2023 | , , , , | News

In a historic decision, the South African judiciary has taken a significant step towards gender equality and the recognition of diverse family structures. The recent judgment declared certain provisions of the Basic Conditions of Employment Act no 75 of 1997 (BCEA) and the Unemployment Insurance Fund Act no 63 of 2001 (UIF Act) invalid, citing inconsistency with the South African Constitution. These provisions had been criticized for unfairly discriminating between mothers and fathers, as well as differentiating between parents based on the circumstances of their children’s birth or adoption.

Parental Leave

The Unjust Discrimination

The invalidated provisions, which include sections 25, 25A, 25B, and 25C of the BCEA, as well as corresponding sections in the UIF Act, had long been criticized for perpetuating gender disparities and discrimination within the realm of parental leave. These laws have created a significant disparity between mothers and fathers, adopting parents, and those with children born through surrogacy.


Discrimination against Fathers:
One of the key issues addressed by the judgment was the discrimination faced by fathers in South Africa when it came to parental leave. These laws had been unfairly skewed towards mothers, leaving fathers with significantly less time to bond with their children and provide care. 

Differentiation Based on Childbirth Circumstances:
The judgment also highlighted the unequal treatment of parents based on how their children came into their lives, whether by birth, surrogacy, or adoption. These distinctions were deemed unjust and in violation of the principles of equality enshrined in the South African Constitution.


The Ruling

In response to these inequalities, the judgment made several critical decisions:


  1. Suspension of Declaration of Invalidity:
    The declaration of invalidity was suspended for two years, allowing the South African Parliament time to rectify the discriminatory provisions. 
  1. Amended Parental Leave Provisions:
    Pending the enactment of remedial legislation, the judgment introduced revised parental leave provisions. Single parents are entitled to four consecutive months of parental leave, while pairs of parents can elect to take turns or have one parent take the entire period. Employers must be notified of this election. 
  1. Equalizing Language:
    The judgment introduced language changes in the legislation, replacing “maternity” with “parental” to ensure that it encompasses both mothers and fathers. 
  1. Unified Parental Leave Entitlement:
    The judgment simplified the law by stating that employees who are parents are entitled to the leave stipulated in section 25(1), eliminating differentiation based on childbirth circumstances. 
  1. Equal Rights for Adoption:
    If an adoption order is made for two adoptive parents, they are both entitled to the leave as stipulated in section 25(1). 
  1. Inclusive Surrogacy Agreement Leave:
    Employees who are commissioning parents in surrogate motherhood agreements are now entitled to parental leave as stipulated in section 25(1). If there are two commissioning parents, they both have equal entitlement to leave. 
  1. Consistency with UIF Act:
    The judgment ensures that the provisions of sections 25(7), 25A(5), 25B, and 25C(5) in the BCEA and corresponding sections in the UIF Act are in line with the changes. 
  1. Costs Allocation:
    In accordance with the Biowatch principle, the costs of the applicants in this case, including legal costs, will be borne by the Minister of Labour.


The recent judgment in South Africa represents a significant milestone in the pursuit of gender equality and equal parental rights. By declaring certain provisions of the BCEA and UIF Act invalid and introducing amended parental leave provisions, the court has taken a critical step toward recognizing and addressing the unequal treatment of mothers and fathers, as well as parents with children born through various circumstances. This decision reinforces the principles of equality enshrined in the South African Constitution and offers a more equitable foundation for families, irrespective of how they are formed. It is a triumph for diversity and inclusivity, setting a powerful precedent for future legal developments in the country.

The content does not constitute legal advice, are not intended to be a substitute for legal advice and should not be relied upon as such. Kindly contact us on or 021 556 9864 to speak to one of our attorneys.

Zahnri Griebenow

Zahnri Griebenow

Zahnri joined CK as an associate in April 2023.

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