Thursday 8 May 2014

Defending maternity rights

Sometimes a swift response can bring immediate results. That has been the case in Lewisham to successfully make sure that a threat to cut paid maternity leave has been put on hold - at least for the moment.

I returned from the Bank Holiday weekend to find a number of angry emails in my inbox from women about to start their maternity leave.

They had just received notification from their schools that, from May 1st, paid maternity leave had been cut from 20 weeks half-pay to just 12 weeks. It doesn't need me to explain the financial problems this would cause to teachers and their families and partners.

While we had been told about similar proposals at the end of 2013, teaching unions had been reassured that our concerns had been noted. We had since received no further correspondence consulting over these changes. It wasn't just our members who had a right to be angry, so did we !

I responded by taking legal advice, making calls and meeting with HR. I wanted officers to understand that these changes would be strongly opposed by the NUT.

Reps were alerted that this would be an emergency item at our next General Meeting and action plans were being made. A volunteer to be a legal test-case soon came forward - and I suspect some in the Council knew we would have had - and still have - a strong basis to challenge this imposition.

I'm pleased to report that I have now received an email confirming that the reduction in paid leave  changes are now being withdrawn - at least to allow proper consultation.

The news is welcome and shows what a quick Union response can achieve. I hope that councillors would recognise how unpopular cuts of this kind would be - and how unattractive it would make Lewisham as a place to work compared to some other Inner London boroughs. If, however, a newly-elected Council makes a judgment that NUT members would be prepared to accept these cuts being reinstated, then they will need to think again.

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