“Contrived” arrangements and other pregnancy-related issues
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 1, 12 February 2021, page no.21
Despite our many significant achievements on the road to making workplaces more gender equitable, pregnancy and returning to work discrimination are alive and well, even in our feminised workforce.
Your Union has worked productively and positively with central office IR and HR to ensure that the policies and procedures outline favourable entitlements. There is clear advice and policy for managers. However, ensuring that policy is understood and translated at a school and regional level is too often problematic. I am not aware of any department training for school managers or HR staff regarding parental leave entitlements.
A prime example of this disconnect is the frequent use of the term “contrived arrangement” by regional HR staff and payroll employees. In my experience as QTU Women’s Officer, I have heard this term used frequently, with misplaced moral judgment, to describe pregnant women looking to either return to their substantive full-time roles or maximise their parental leave entitlements.
“Contrived” is a loaded word that conjures images of someone plotting to gain an entitlement that is not reasonably owed to them. It has no basis in industrial legislation, does not appear in the Parental Leave Directive (the authority for the leave), department policy or the code of conduct. And it is only ever used to describe pregnant employees.
Pregnant employees who had previously been full-time have every right to request a return to their substantive full-time role. It is not a crime. The QTU has consistently raised the insulting misuse of this terminology, but it is still in use.
Here are some other frequently seen examples of pregnancy-related discrimination.
- A pregnant teacher who is expecting in the first half of the year is not timetabled to their regular year level, subject area or classes because “they are taking leave” and “it is disruptive to the children”.
- A pregnant teacher is provided with LRT or DRT work because “they are accessing leave”. This is often seen as the solution for teachers seeking to return from their parental leave and work part-time. However, there is a real difference between a teacher requesting LRT or DRT and being pushed into it because they are viewed as “hard to staff” positions.
- A temporary teacher who had not worked for the department for a full 12 months is thus ineligible for paid or unpaid parental leave, meaning that their pregnancy-related break in service cannot be recorded and any service accrued towards the temporary to permanent process is lost.
- A contract teacher whose baby is due early in the year misses out on a contract for the following year “because they can’t take up the contract” early in the year as they will need to go on leave. The contract was going to be theirs, but everything changed once they disclosed their pregnancy.
- A pregnant teacher isn’t given the acting role because they are taking leave.
- A teacher seeking to return part-time is told that the fraction they are seeking is not available (when they “hold” a 1.0 FTE), meaning they cannot plan their childcare arrangements because they cannot negotiate a fraction.
- Schools set fractions or quotas on the number of part-time staff “allowed”.
- A teacher who holds a classified position is told they cannot perform that role part-time or will have to relinquish it if they seek extended unpaid leave for family care responsibilities.
- Many teachers who work part-time following parental leave then struggle to return to their substantive full-time role, being told (incorrectly) by HR that they “permanently” reduced their fraction or are “stuck” on that fraction because they transferred schools while working part-time.
The capacity of the employee to challenge the manager is inherent in resolving the issues above. Many teachers find this difficult, particularly when they have been absent from the workforce for some time, are sleep deprived, or struggling to manage family and work life for the first time. Many simply accept the situation, afraid that “rocking the boat” will cause more harm.
The department, as the employer of choice, can and must do better when supporting working parents. Ceasing the “contrived” insults would be a bloody good way to start!