10 April 2008

Maternity leave is not a paid holiday

Natasha Kaplinsky, UK broadcaster, recently accepted a £1m paycheck per year for signing on to be the 'face' of Channel 5. However, only 6 weeks into her contract, the 35 year old newsreader announced she was 12 weeks pregnant. It seems despite the British government's increasingly 'family-friendly' workplace accommodations for mothers, Natasha's unborn baby is being positioned in the UK media as more of an inconvenience, rather than a blessing. Everyone it seems is outraged that a woman in her mid-30s would even think about accepting a job with any inclination that at some stage in professional life, she might have a baby.
In the Times Online today, one (female) journalist had this to say, referring to pregnancy as an 'intractable problem' with no solution:

"All this is extremely difficult and I am very uncertain as to what, if anything, can reasonably be done. However, surely the most important first step in dealing with such intractable problems is to be free to admit what they are. When hiring women of childbearing age is more problematic than hiring men or other women, employers should be allowed to say so. They should not be forced to pretend that it isn’t so, while at the same time making special allowances for working mothers and offering equal pay for what may not be equal services".

Ah. Right. So who will be in charge of the reproduction of the population is women aren't supposed to be allowed to stop and have babies?

And this v.angry journalist continues:

Many women seem to expect extraordinary rights and allowances so that they can keep their jobs whatever the cost and inconvenience to their employer and to be equally paid when they are not always of equal value. Government and public opinion support them.

Actually, Kaplinsky is not getting 'maternity leave' as she is freelance and is not even being paid. If she was in any other job, Kaplinsky would be entitled to 26 weeks off, regardless of how long she worked for her employer. Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) is paid for 26 weeks. For the first six weeks SMP is paid at 90% of average earnings and for the remaining 20 weeks SMP is £108 a week or 90% of average weekly earnings if this is less. The government has pledged that from 2007, paid maternity leave will be extended from six to nine months, worth an estimated extra £1,400.

So when it comes down to it, this newsreader, despite being promised a million dollar contract, is actually losing money because she's pregnant. She's not being 'equally paid' as angry Times journalist suggests and the ratings for Channel 5 have already gone up since she came on board which should suggest to her employers that hiring her was a good business decision.

It makes me so angry that people think that pregnant women get a great deal when they go on maternity leave. Seriously, having a baby is not like taking a holiday. Being a mother is work. New mothers do not, I repeat, DO NOT, sit on the lounge watching TV all day thinking about how great life is when they aren't working. Babies demand time and energy constantly. Of the new mothers in my study, not only did many of them find the transition to motherhood difficult in itself, the fact that many of them had to discontinue their paid work for the first time in their lives was extremely difficult. It takes a very strong woman to temporarily put her career on hold knowing that there is a chance that her employer could eliminate her position (especially in the US) or give her job to someone else like a 25 year old man who will not bring to the office the 'burdens' of motherhood. Moreover, the fact that in many countries maternity leave is still wholly underfunded and motherhood is not recognised as valuable work only suggests that many prominent 'Western' countries are falling v.short of their promises to maintain family-friendly policies.

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The Baby Bump Project by Meredith Nash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.