The law firm for which I worked when I had my daughter did not have paid maternity leave unless you were a partner. As far as I know, only one woman ever met that hurdle. It is a really short-sighted position to take when you are a profitable business with a pretty good turnover. I think that if I had received maternity leave, I would have returned to the firm, at least for a year. I would have felt a moral obligation to return because they had supported me financially while I was off work. I would also have felt that my contribution was valued, and that the firm wanted me back.
Thus, if a company or business has the resources to be able to pay a valued employee maternity leave, I think it should do so. The short term pain of paying the maternity leave will be balanced by the long term value of getting the employee back. Of course, many law firms aren’t that concerned about keeping their people, so it’s not surprising that they’d skimp on maternity leave. Many treat staff so badly that they quit, and just get new cannon fodder in, rather than changing their practices. Thoroughly unenlightened, if you ask me.
I was interested to read about the Rudd government’s latest proposals for government-funded maternity leave. Of course I would like to be the beneficiary of such a proposal. It would make surviving on one income much easier. At the moment, I think many women are forced to go back to work earlier than they planned because of financial pressures, myself among them. I was planning to take a year off after having my daughter, but the money ran out after five months (on reappraising my budgeting, I had massively underestimated the cost of groceries). The baby bonus all went towards the obstetrician bill. At that point, we didn’t even have a mortgage, but it was still hard enough. This time, I’m much better planned.
I can understand, however, that some people might look at the new proposal and think, “Why should I pay for some other person to stay at home with his or her child?” Particularly if the person works for an employer who can afford to foot the bill, but is too stingy to do so. In order to believe that such a payment is a good thing, it is necessary to believe that increasing the time which parents can spend with a child is a societal good for which we all must pay a little. It happens that I do believe that: but of course, I’m biased; it’s something from which I benefit. Nonetheless, I like to think that even if I didn’t want to have children or couldn’t have them, it’s still something for which I’d be willing to pay. After all, it’s about making sure that future generations are well-cared for and healthy, which is something that society as a whole will benefit from. I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if there are some commenters on this blog who disagree with me virulently!
Returning to my original line of thought, I still think that a wise employer who can afford to do so should also help a parent out financially with a view to retaining their valuable services when they want to return to work.
I wonder what the position would be for someone like me who is on contract, and therefore technically does not get “maternity leave”. For the moment, my contract has ended, and I’m unemployed. I’ve just got to hope it will be renewed when I want to return. I wonder if I would get government-paid maternity leave? I suspect not, even though I do intend to return to paid employment. Some friends and I were discussing the prevalence of short-term contracts for working mothers with young children. The advantage of short-term contracts is that working hours tend to be more flexible and shorter (the big bonus when you want to spend as much time as possible with your child). The disadvantages are numerous (low pay, lack of financial and job security, lack of benefits and sick leave). It’s a trade-off.
Then I also wonder about women who want to stay at home and look after their children. I note that under this proposal, they get substantially less than working mothers. Are we saying that women who return to work are more valuable to society than women who choose not to return to work? Is this fair? I can tell you that raising small kids is one of the hardest jobs ever. Indeed, when I first went back to work after having my daughter, I used to feel that my office was an oasis of calm compared to home, and that the challenges were so much easier. This really surprised me. But I guess there’s no real break from small babies and toddlers, unlike work, when at least you get to go home or have a lunch break. Many partners are gobsmacked by how difficult it is when the primary carer first leaves them alone with their child for a day. I do tend to think it’s something every partner should experience.
Well, I’ll watch developments on this front with interest. And I look forward to hearing your comments.