Steps for­ward for fam­i­lies

Valley Journal Advertiser - - OPINION - Wendy El­liott

My first baby wasn’t three months old when I had to go back to work. It was Au­gust and my boss, who was child­less, wanted to go on va­ca­tion. I re­mem­ber what a mess that threw me into.

With hor­mones dom­i­nant any­way, I couldn’t get through a phone con­ver­sa­tion with a friend about child­care op­tions with­out bawl­ing. Luck­ily, through a clas­si­fied ad in this news­pa­per, I found Joanne Bezan­son, a proud stay-at-home mom. That was 1980 and things have changed, but not with­out some con­certed fights.

Ac­cord­ing to the Cana­dian Labour Congress, we can thank the postal work­ers’ union for ma­ter­nity leave. In 1981, the union went on strike for 42 days win­ning the right to 17 weeks of paid ma­ter­nity leave. That soon set the stan­dard for the coun­try and un­em­ploy­ment in­sur­ance ben­e­fits be­came main­stream.

It was Bri­tish Columbia that first in­tro­duced paid ma­ter­nity leave ben­e­fits with the Ma­ter­nity Pro­tec­tion Act of 1921. This law man­dated job pro­tec­tion and moth­ers were also per­mit­ted thirty min­utes twice a day to nurse a child while at work.

Ma­ter­nity leave, as we un­der­stand it, was also in­tro­duced in B.C. in 1966. Five years later, the fed­eral gov­ern­ment fol­lowed suit, amend­ing the Canada Labour Code.

We need to re­mem­ber that over a 20-year pe­riod, women went from slightly more than 30 per cent of the work­force aged 20 to 30, to dou­ble that pro­por­tion by the end of the 1970s. Some­thing had to shift for work­ing moth­ers.

So, I view the change made to the Mu­nic­i­pal Gov­ern­ment Act this past spring as one of the pos­i­tives for 2018. Mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil­lors in Nova Sco­tia no longer have to ask their coun­cils for per­mis­sion to take parental leave.

Kings County’s deputy mayor Emily Lutz and her col­leaque Meg Hodges, both young moms, ad­vo­cated for the change. Shortly af­ter giv­ing birth this past March, Lutz was given the right to a year’s ma­ter­nity leave.

Just be­fore her­self giv­ing birth in 2017, Hodges’ re­quest for leave was de­bated pub­licly by county coun­cil. Her col­leaques around the ta­ble agreed to give her a year’s leave, which is what mu­nic­i­pal em­ploy­ees are en­ti­tled to.

Be­gin­ning to­day the pro­vin­cial Labour Stan­dards Code is bring­ing Nova Sco­tia in line with the fed­eral statute and the rest of the coun­try, by ex­tend­ing ma­ter­nity and parental leave from 52 to 77 weeks.

Af­ter some con­certed ad­vo­cacy by the NDP Party and colum­nists, like Jim Vib­ert, Nova Sco­tia’s job pro­tec­tion pro­vi­sions are now in line with the rest of the na­tion. Only last month Nova Sco­tian women had to be in their jobs for a year be­fore their po­si­tions were pro­tected. Things can - and do - change.

The fed­eral gov­ern­ment changed the EI parental leave ben­e­fit stip­u­la­tions last March to al­low new moth­ers to re­ceive ben­e­fits for 18 months, but few are ter­ri­bly keen be­cause Ot­tawa didn’t in­crease the amount of money for the pro­gram. So, par­ents may re­ceive ben­e­fits for a longer pe­riod, but the weekly amount will be less.

Still, leave that en­com­passes both par­ents is a marvelous no­tion that ben­e­fits ba­bies and fam­i­lies. Par­ents to­day have choices – a lot more than those of a gen­er­a­tion or two ear­lier. We cel­e­brated Canada 150, but we should also mark 2021 as the cen­te­nary of the be­gin­ning of ma­ter­nity ben­e­fits in this coun­try.

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