Britain’s biggest teaching union is to look at ways of campaigning for better maternity rights following a vote at its annual conference today.
A total of 99 per cent of delegates voted for a motion calling on the union’s national executive to “work with districts and branches to look for opportunities to campaign for improved maternity rights and to ensure that members’ statutory and negotiated rights are upheld”.
The union will now also carry out a survey of its women members on their experiences of being pregnant at work and their subsequent return.
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Geography teacher Daisy Maxwell, of Tower Hamlets NEU, said pregnancy and maternity issues were a major issue on the union’s advice line.
“Many women are forced to come back after six months when they’d rather have taken a year off because statutory maternity pay is so low,” she said.
Pregnant teachers 'routinely suffer discrimination'
Seconding the motion, Mary Kerr added: “This has been going on far too long. When I had my kids 30 years ago, it relied on the fact that I had a good headteacher as to whether I could get time off, and it shouldn’t be like that.”
The motion noted, among other issues, that:
- Pregnant women and mothers “routinely” suffer discrimination, ill-treatment and unfair dismissal every year.
- Women make up 74 per cent of the education workforce and have a range of contracts with different entitlements and rights.
- Rates of statutory maternity pay, and maternity allowance, are “too low” and many members on supply contracts do not benefit from enhanced maternity pay.
The motion also calls on the NEU executive to:
- Review guidance for women members on pregnancy/maternity rights, including clear advice on health and safety, flexible working and job shares.
- Carry out a national campaign to improve the knowledge and agency of women in relation to maternity/pregnancy rights.
- Work with the charity Maternity Action to produce guidance specific to the education sector.
- Campaign for better scientific research relating to women to ensure that their needs are properly met in the provision of services and at work.
- Ensure that training of caseworkers, officers and reps specifically includes pregnancy/maternity rights.
NEU joint general secretary Mary Bousted said: “The majority of education workers are women, but government data shows that men are quicker to progress in terms of their career and salary. Sexism and sexist biases, including pregnancy and maternity discrimination, mean that women in the education sector are losing out in status and pay.
“This situation has worsened for all women in the education sector with the fragmentation of the education system. Whereas women and their line managers and employers once had access to clear, fair maternity policies, academisation has excluded many women from the workplace benefits negotiated by their trade unions.
“Discrimination against women who are pregnant and on or returning from maternity leave was increasing in the education sector, but it has been relentless throughout the pandemic. Risk assessments have not included the risks to pregnant women and their unborn babies. Women have been punished for taking time off related to their pregnancy. Employers have tried to force women to start their maternity leave early. Women returning from maternity leave have been denied flexible working, and breast-feeding women have been subjected to the most degrading treatment.
“These insidious trends need to change, to ensure women’s needs are properly met in the provision of services at work and to make work safe and discrimination-free for women who are pregnant on maternity leave or returning to work after having given birth.”