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Arguments for full-pay maternity leave - help needed please!

(22 Posts)
RedRoversReturn Sat 07-May-16 18:46:43

Hello All. I'm hoping some of you might be willing to offer some arguments for me to store up for a discussion that is due to happen in my workplace soonish.
For context, I'm not in the UK and work for an NGO related to immigration, resettlement of migrants and asylum seekers, access to social welfare etc. I am currently the only woman on the senior staff group, along with six men.

Where we are, there is a statutory right to Maternity Leave, paid by the State. It is not a 'living wage' type amount. Many employers expect women to make do on that while on mat leave for six months, but right now my employer tops the statutory amount up to the normal full pay amount for employees on mat leave. The 'top up' amounts to two or three hundred per week, depending on the person's usual income. But this policy is soon to be reviewed.

As the only woman at the table, I feel a responsibility to put forward the strongest arguments I can for why the top-up should not be eliminated. This is what I have:

1. Both men and women in the staff group will become parents, but only women will see their income drop by hundreds per week as a result. The fact that we are the ones doing the birthing and healing and (maybe) breastfeeding and therefore need to be the ones off work for at least the early part of those six months, is not a choice and is not within our control. We claim as an organisation to have a social justice agenda, and inequality based on women's biology is a social justice issue. As an employer we should have just policies even when the government policy is inadequate. The fact that the top-up costs more than it should is because of the wide gap between the statutory mat leave payment and the living wage that we pay. That's the fault of the government departments that pay too little toward maternity leave, not the fault of the mothers on our workforce.

2. We currently have excellent staff retention and invest a lot into staff training and education. It is in our interest and in the interest of the people we serve to hold on to our committed, talented, experienced staff. If the women among that group who are in their 20s, 30s and 40s (almost all of them) have to choose between having children or keeping a liveable income, some of them will leave, which is a loss to us, and some of them will stay, not be able to afford to take mat leave, and feel that working for us has interfered with what they wanted for their lives. Which is bad for their relationship to the place, loyalty, motivation, positivity, feeling valued etc.

Those are my own views, but I'm concerned in case there are other points I could make that just aren't occurring to me.

Can any of you help to put some wise words in my arsenal? Or some answers against the likely arguments for eliminating the top up:

1. It's unfair to the men who only get 2 weeks paternity leave (fully paid, no statutory contribution).

2. Donors might not like the idea of money being spent on more favourable conditions for employees than are the norm in the sector.

3...... what other arguments do I need to be ready for??

I'd really appreciate any thoughts. Thank you.

VestalVirgin Sat 07-May-16 20:14:49

1. It's unfair to the men who only get 2 weeks paternity leave (fully paid, no statutory contribution).

Would they rather have their genitals ripped to shreds by giving birth, and actually need time off to heal?
Perhaps a very detailed description of what can go wrong during birth, and what the expected damage to the body is, would help to hammer this home.

If they say that 6 months is not needed for healing (I don't know if it is - I suppose in some cases, it is?) you could ask if they are in favour of formula-feeding.

Most men do not really want babies to be bottle-fed and be cared for by strangers at an age of only a few months - but they also don't want women to be paid a living wage for staying at home and doing the care.
You could draw attention to the alternatives to the six months fully paid leave that do not consist of the woman staying at home and depending on her male partner financially. You could use a single mom as example.

2. Donors might not like the idea of money being spent on more favourable conditions for employees than are the norm in the sector.

Oo If they donate money for a good cause, so that more people can lead happier lives, shouldn't the wellbeing of the workers be as important to them as that of the immigrants?

Wouldn't it cause a big scandal if it came out that female employees are treated badly?

Social justice would be important to the donors, I think, and it is not as if the money is spent on bonuses for already overpaid people.

The norm is often unfair, and I am sure the donors know this.

RedRoversReturn Sat 07-May-16 20:22:34

Thanks for taking the time to reply, VestalVirgin! Those are useful thoughts, I really appreciate it.

HappyNevertheless Sat 07-May-16 20:35:08

Honestly?
I believe that full pay for 6 months is a hell of a lot.
I also believe that if a woman gets 6 months full pay after birth than her DH/DP should get the same. By that, I mean been happy to be at home for 6 months looking after the DC on their own.
So the answer to 1- might. You're right. You should also get 6 months off to look after the baby whilst being at full pay.

As for donors, well I would agree TBH. Assuming the donors are British, they would be surprised to see that they are paying for the staff to get more for maternity leave than most people in the UK do (no full wage here for a lot of people).
Obvioulsy it so depends on what sort of wages you are talking about, eg do you have a better wage because you are expat/it's hard to find people to go where you are/do the job you are doing? Standard of living etc...

PalmerViolet Sat 07-May-16 20:55:52

I would imagine that the favourable maternity pay package probably attracts a better calibre of candidate for the role, therefore donors are getting a better deal than if they didn't offer it.

SilverBirchWithout Sun 08-May-16 00:02:11

I think you could also argue that by reducing the period of full-paid maternity leave potentially some mothers will be forced to return to work earlier than is good for them or their children's physical and mental health.

No employer wants to lose working days because of staff health problems or problems with childcare for very young babies. Or have a stressed and unhappy workforce. No doubt an NGO, such as yours, relies heavily on the goodwill of its workforce, good maternity provision fosters good staff morale.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Sun 08-May-16 00:27:49

The package being offered is better than statutory rights in the UK.

Employers in the UK can recover 103 % or 92% of SMP depending on the size of the employer either making a claim or a set off against NI/PAYE. Some employers will contractually offer more than SMP which of course they cannot reclaim.

You said your employer is an NGO - where is the money going to come from ? Can it afford to pay this and pay for temporary cover?

Are you prepared to argue for this to be offered to fathers who take parental leave?

RedRoversReturn Sun 08-May-16 01:45:30

Thanks everyone for the input, I do appreciate the replies and there's plenty of food for thought there. I think in particular the point about women returning earlier than they should and the impact that would likely have on sick leave etc., is a great point and will resonate. It's demanding, often difficult work and sick leave / stress leave / staff burnout is a big concern.

To clarify / answer some questions... We're not in the UK and it's not a UK NGO, so the comparability to the norm for UK companies won't come into the discussions. The organisation is funded in the way NGOs often are: a mix of some government funds for specific services, a lot of organised community fundraising, investment returns on an endowment, etc.

Men and women have equal parental leave rights, we're in the EU so it's the standard unpaid 18 weeks off up to the age of 8. Can be taken all at once, or a day a week or whatever. Doesn't have to be taken at all, and many don't take it because they can't afford the drop in pay. Adoptive leave can be taken by mothers or fathers and the entitlement (including the top up to full pay) is the same as the mat leave policy. But as things stand, the mat leave policy is only for mothers and the pat leave is two weeks at full pay. The driver of the discussion we're about to have is the need to identify areas for cost saving, so it won't be the time to argue for increasing the budget to extend better benefits to fathers.

I guess that's part of the crux of things for me. If this was a review based on ensuring equality, I'd go in with the few that maybe men should get 3 months paternity leave at full pay and women should keep their 6 months as it currently is - I would feel very very comfortable arguing that there's nothing unequal about giving more paid time off to the person who actually gave birth and may be establishing breastfeeding on top of the demands of caring for a newborn, than to the person who is 'only' caring for the baby. In the first 3 months following a birth, it is women who should have special provision because biology demands it and anything else puts them (us) at a disadvantage. After the first three months, it would be great if both mothers and fathers had the option of full pay while caring for a new baby, but again, we're meeting to look at ways to reduce the spending, not increase it.

Since the issue is cost saving, I feel that the savings shouldn't be made at the expense of the 65-ish% of our workforce who are women of childbearing age. Especially when that decision would be taken by a senior staff group that is 86% male. There are other things we can look at that would be applied either across the board - pay freeze etc. - or would target specific employees for savings according to income level (like a 5% cut to the highest earners, myself included) rather than finding ways to save that only affect some employees' terms and conditions, depending on their sex and their family situations.

Thanks so much to everyone who has engaged with the question, it's really helped me to get into the headspace to be prepared for the meeting when it happens. Any further thoughts very welcome!

NotCitrus Sun 08-May-16 02:18:40

How much does it cost to recruit a new team member? It's likely that improved staff morale and retention will lead to savings there. You could also point to all the successful multinational companies that give 6 to 9 months on full pay in order to retain talented women and work towards a diverse workforce. IBM, HSBC, the UK civil service...

Bumbledumb Sun 08-May-16 08:44:56

I think your second point is probably the stronger of the two. The cost of providing the top up will provide a net benefit to the business. Even more of the donors' money would be spent hiring and training replacement staff if women are forced to leave for economic reasons.
As for the men, it is unfair that they do not have the option of taking full time paid paternity leave, but that is not an argument against paying the women. If they feel it would be equally advantageous to offer the men the same package, they should do so.

peggyundercrackers Sun 08-May-16 09:11:20

Sorry I don't get the argument for woman leaving because they aren't getting enhanced mat pay. Surely they aren't going to leave the business if they don't get enhanced pay because no one else offers and enhanced pay either?

No citrus the people I know for IBM and HSBC don't get a full year off with maternity pay, they just get the normal 6 moths full pay, 3 months stat then take the remainder off as unpaid leave - this is in the uk, no idea outside of that.

PotteringAlong Sun 08-May-16 09:16:39

I'm a teacher. I got 6 weeks full pay. I didn't leave. I don't think 6 months full pay is necessary or appropriate for an NGO to be using their funds on. Don't get me wrong, it would be great if everyone got it, but maybe 3 months would be a compromise?

LurcioAgain Sun 08-May-16 09:21:31

I think you've got to think about this in terms of what is likely to win the battle for you. So I'd say the line to push is cost of recruitment and retraining - push it as a benefit to the organisation financially to retain their staff. Arguing about rights in very general terms simply allows the discussion to get derailed into one of the relative merits of women employees versus the people your organisation is trying to help, questions about whether men should get paternity leave on full pay, etc.

(My employer, back when I took maternity leave, gave 6 months on full pay. Interestingly, I think - following the change in the law which allows couples to share maternity leave - they now offers men who choose to take half of the maternity leave 6 months on full pay same as women get).

HappyNevertheless Sun 08-May-16 09:23:54

If 65% of the workforce are women of childbearing age then you have one part of your answer. The people who are attracted to these jobs are women. If you give them less benefits, you will attract less of them and that will be an issue for the NGO.

However, if you are in the EU and have the 'standard' maternity package, what does that mean? Is the standard 6 months full pay? Or is it 3 months? Or is it 6 months at a lower rate?
You'll struggle to explain why women in your organisation should get more than everyone else in your country unless you have some clear issue with recruitment.

Trills Sun 08-May-16 09:26:27

How much does it cost to recruit and train a new employee?

Not just in monetary terms but in terms of work not getting done while there is no-one working the job, or while a new person is doing the job and can't work at full capacity?

It's not just women who are just about to have babies that will leave. Women who think in a year or two I'd like to have a baby, may leave in order to becomes established at their new job before they get pregnant.

SueTrinder Sun 08-May-16 09:40:24

the people I know for IBM and HSBC don't get a full year off with maternity pay, they just get the normal 6 moths full pay, 3 months stat then take the remainder off as unpaid leave - this is in the uk, no idea outside of that.

It is not normal to get 6 months full pay. Most people in the UK only get the statutory minimum thread here. I work in the pharms industry, I gor 18 weeks on full pay but the pharms industry generally has very good terms and conditions.

sashh Sun 08-May-16 10:11:49

Where is the NGO's original country? Many companies offer employees the same package as they would get in the home country, so for something based in the UK I would expect both male and female workers to be treated as if they are in the UK ie they may work in a country that doesn't have sex or race discrimination laws but I would expect the company to operate as though UK law applied.

Any NGO/Charity that doesn't will not get any funding from me. And where do your funds come from? What is the opinion of your main funders?

The reason Lords Cricket ground allowed women to be members was because lottery funds are not allocated to organisations that discriminate.

Why are you working in that country? If it is to improve people's lives then shouldn't you be promoting a better way of life and showing it is possible?

What happens if an employee breaks a leg and is off work for potentially months?

Sorry I don't get the argument for woman leaving because they aren't getting enhanced mat pay. Surely they aren't going to leave the business if they don't get enhanced pay because no one else offers and enhanced pay either?

But taking it away doesn't give them a reason to stay.

LassWiTheDelicateAir Sun 08-May-16 10:47:25

But taking it away doesn't give them a reason to stay

if there are other employers offering a better package they might leave. If the lesser package is the norm removing it should not make a difference.

Bumbledumb Sun 08-May-16 10:55:09

If the lesser package is the norm removing it should not make a difference.

It could cause the retention rates of female employees to drop, which would make a difference to the organization. What are the retention rates like at organizations which do not have a similar policy?

RedRoversReturn Sun 08-May-16 15:12:32

Thanks again everyone for all the food for thought. To answer some questions, I don't want to say which country we're in because I've already said the type of NGO it is and I think it would be fairly identifiable if I also said where it was! But it's not a matter of the NGO having a 'home' country and staff being based elsewhere. We work with / on behalf of people immigrating in to the country where we're based. We're not working abroad or anything like that.

We are not the only NGO in our area to currently offer top-up to full maternity pay, so the point about female staff choosing to work elsewhere if possible is a good one. We are a bit of a niche field but staff come from many different social justice type backgrounds (homelessness, welfare advocacy, child protection etc.) and would have plenty of transferable skills. I think that we are in the minority in offering the top up, but certainly not the only ones. Speaking for myself, long before I was head of department I was working in direct service provision and went for a management job elsewhere, and was offered it, with a pay package much better than the one I was on at that time. One factor in deciding to stay and try to progress within the organisation instead was the fact that I thought I might have a baby in the next few years and wanted to benefit from the mat leave policy. I have since had two children and returned to work after each 6 month period, and the fact that I was so well supported by not facing a drop in income when each baby was born, absolutely contributes in a big way to my sense of loyalty / pride in my organisation.

GreenTomatoJam Mon 09-May-16 08:13:57

I do think that the business case one is very, very strong.

I've looked into it for a previous company, and just hiring a middling level developer can easily cost 20k (including time spent by interviewers, but not including the cost to the business of the work they would have been doing, or the time spent onboarding the new employee, or the risk that every now and then you hire someone who turns out to be the wrong fit and have to start over).

Staff retention is a high priority - especially if you are abroad and hiring non-locals.

peggyundercrackers Mon 09-May-16 11:18:28

Sue It is not normal to get 6 months full pay

all the companies I have worked for have provided this benefit - I thought it was normal. I have only worked for national or international companies, never a smaller company though.

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