Steps forward for families
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.