I found out yesterday that HR have finally sorted out advertising to recruit my maternity cover, but the salary is more than 10% less than what I currently earn. The drop is such that I wouldn't have applied for the job at that rate (I couldn't have afforded to take it) and my boss and I both think they will struggle to attract anyone to the role. There is an internal candidate who is interested (and very suitable) but he would have to take a pay cut if he took on the role and he's not sure he can afford to.
When I asked my boss why this had been done, he said that budgets were tight and they had to cover my maternity pay. I pointed out that the organisation should be able to claim back most of the statutory element and while I do qualify for the small extra the company provides, it's not that much to necessitate dropping the salary for my cover so much.
At the moment, I'm not sure whether I would be able to go back, mainly due to logistics of commuting, but I definitely couldn't afford to go back and cover travel costs and childcare at the lower rate. I plan to take the full year, so I know I could only expect to go back to an equivalent job, does that also apply to salary? There are job bandings, but they are very vague and regularly reinterpreted by HR.
Should I be worried about my job if I do go back? Are they allowed to do this and could I be made to accept taking a pay cut if I go back?
I don't think you need to worry. Your salary will be protected and you will be entitled to any pay awards in your absence. Your colleague can ask to be seconded to the role and keep his existing salary. Fixed term contracts are always difficult to fill as they are not very attractive.