Monday, 10 August 2009

the moral: don't change jobs while pregnant if you can avoid it, or try and change the system

Amber inspired the following post and it's a contribution to her Maternity Leave Carnival, which is already up and running with lots of fabulous contributions.

When I went on maternity leave 2 weeks before Cubling was due (she was 15 days late, so it was actually a month before she was born), I was in a tricky situation. Having changed jobs while pregnant, I only qualified for ordinary maternity leave (26 weeks at the time) and didn't have an entitlement to additional maternity leave (i.e. an additional 26 weeks of unpaid leave with security to get my job back at the end of it). The latter is only available to pregnant women who have been in their current job from before they got pregnant. I kept working as long as I could (actually longer, the last two weeks of work were a real struggle) to have as much time with Cubling after she was born as I could manage.

Ordinary maternity leave was extended the month after Cubling was born from 6 to 9 months. I missed it by three weeks. This was unfortunate because Cubling, at 5 months, was not ready to be looked after by a stranger, yet I had no choice. We managed, but I strongly believe that every child and their parents should have the chance to stay at least the first year after birth at home with his/her parent(s) without losing their jobs, regardless of whether mum to be changed jobs while pregnant or not. However, additional maternity leave only kicks in if you've been employed with an employer before you got pregnant.

Further, because I had the audacity to change jobs while pregnant, I had no entitlement to Statutory Maternity Pay. This is, in its most basic form, 6 weeks of 90% of full pay, followed by the remaining 18 weeks at a weekly payment of at the time 108 pounds (now 123 pounds). The technicalities of this pay is that it's paid by the employer, who gets it reimbursed by the state. If you change jobs while pregnant, you are entitled to Maternity Allowance instead, paid directly by the state, of 108 pounds at the time (now also 123 pounds); from the first week of maternity leave.

Effectively, this system punishes mothers who change jobs while pregnant both on the count of pay and length of maternity leave. When I raised this with my local MP, who passed it to the relevant minister, the response went along the lines that they don't want to put an undue financial burden on employers if the length of service of the pregnant woman has been rather short. This argument fails to acknowledge that it's the state who pays Statutory Maternity Pay (through the employer) so the financial burden isn't on the employer but the state. Therefore, it is the state who does not want to have the financial burden of six weeks pay for women who've changed jobs while pregnant.

Coming back to my case: At the time, I'd been in continuous tax paying and NI paying employment in the UK for 11 years. When I changed jobs, I didn't even take a week's break. So why then does the state not want to support my hard work with the ridiculous length of 6 weeks on 90% of my pay?

In fact, the minister's argument is flawed: while the state would not pay statutory maternity pay to my employer, my employer (bless them) actually paid up. Not just 90% of my salary but 100% for 17.5 weeks. That's because they decided I still qualified for that length of contractual maternity pay. So the financial loss of me changing jobs ended to be on my employer which I found rather unfair.

Above all, regardless of who pays what, the question is why there are different regulations for woman who change jobs while they are pregnant. The policy effectively discourages career moves during pregnancy which to me sounds like direct discrimination on the basis of gender. Take the example of my situation as way of illustration: my previous job involved a lot of evening and weekend work and was on a yearly contract. I was also underpaid considering the responsibilibies I had. I changed into a post which was permanent, a move to a securer and also better paid employment. The conditions of my post that my new employer offers I value a lot, which also meant that I was prepared to stick with them when the programme of work was changed entirely and the organisation went through a massive structural review. So the investment they made has paid off for them. Both parties happy.

All the while the reasoning for this different treatment of pregnant women who change jobs and those who do not does not make sense. It's a loophole that needs to be patched. If you are a woman, pregnant, a mother or thinking about pregnancy in the UK, why don't your write to your MP to raise this with him/her and the Minister, and ask for changes to be made so that every woman in employment qualifies for the meagre 6 weeks of statutory maternity pay.
You can use the letter I wrote two years ago if you like. And you can read my original post on this here.

And don't get me started on the pithiful length of paternity leave...


Brit in Bosnia / Fraught Mummy said...

Great post. I have always thought that it was ridiculous that the maternity benefits only kick in when you have got continuous work for one employer precisely for the reasons you just laid out.

There is also a difference in the way you pay tax between the maternity pay and maternity allowance. I can't quite remember it now, and don't have access to my notes but you might like to look it up. (I think you don't need to pay tax on the allowence but do on the pay? don't quote me on it).

Thanks for highlighting this.

Platespinner said...

Hi, I just hopped over to from a comment you left at Noble Savage and I'm enjoying your blog.

Interesting thoughts on SMP. I agree with you that every woman ought to qualify for the six weeks regardless of how long she has worked for her employer. Our parental leave regulations need a complete overhaul in any case. As you point out, what about the ridiculously short length of paternity leave? Parental leave is a big factor in reinforcing traditional gender roles when it comes to work/looking after children. There should be much more flexibility there to enable real choices.

Mwa said...

Very nice post.

Belgian women only get three months' pregnancy leave. It's pitiful. We can then take some extra breastfeeding leave and parenting leave, but most people go back after three months because they're not paid as well. Fathers get ten days, which is not as bad as in most countries.

Kathryn said...

Here is the link to my bilingual post - hope it can be of help!!

Kathryn said...

no, HERE is the link sorry!!

Capital Mom said...

Visiting from Amber's site. That is very stupid about the continuous work. What an arbitrary rule.

Anonymous said...

Ha. Don't be daft enough to be retraining (as a teacher) while pregnant and miss out on even qualifying for Maternity Allowance by two weeks is what I say. Although to be fair, if I had realised it was just two weeks I would probably have managed to squeeze them in somewhere, so that was my fault. Still.

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