'Victory for motherhood'

JO MOIR
Last updated 21:36 05/11/2014
Deborah Marshall and children
CAMERON BURNELL/Fairfax NZ
DOUBLE TROUBLE: Wellington teacher Deborah Marshall with her 5-year-old son and 3-year-old twins. She will be paid more than $8000 after the Employment Relations Authority ruled she was entitled to a second grant of six weeks' paid leave for becoming pregnant while still on maternity leave.

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Teachers who get pregnant again while still on maternity leave will be entitled to an extra six weeks' pay, after a decision hailed as a victory for motherhood.

But Business New Zealand says the employment contract dispute is one that would never have taken place in the private sector, and undermines the purpose of paid parental leave.

Teachers are already entitled to up to 24 months' unpaid leave, including six weeks' paid leave, but a recent Employment Relations Authority decision means a teacher could now take unpaid leave for up to four years while collecting two six-week payments.

Business NZ employment relations policy manager Paul Mackay said the decision made no rational sense.

The idea behind paid parental leave is that you have children but then head back to work.

"This is an incentive where you can stay away from work and actually make more money than if you went back."

Post Primary Teachers' Association president Angela Roberts said the decision was not only a win for the profession but a win for motherhood.

"It's a great investment because you're more likely to retain teachers in the profession as a result, which is cheaper than training someone else."

A lot of public money was spent on training and resourcing teachers, and it was a "complete waste" if they walked away from the profession because they wanted to have babies.

"This is about valuing human resources and valuing female teachers."

The Ministry of Education was still considering its response to the decision, but "can see how the authority reached its decision", head of student achievement Graham Stoop said.

"Regardless of this, we are in the process of identifying school employees who might be affected by this decision, and would like to work proactively with PPTA to ensure that all staff receive what they are entitled to."

As part of the 2004-07 secondary teachers' collective agreement, unpaid maternity leave was extended from 12 months to 24 months.

But problems arose in 2009 when it was apparent a teacher could become pregnant while on unpaid leave and qualify for a second period of maternity leave before returning to work.

Between 2010 and 2012, six teachers applied for a maternity grant after becoming pregnant while still on unpaid leave. In five cases the grants were turned down, and one was paid in error, the ministry told the ERA.

The ministry's interpretation of the collective agreement was that a teacher wasn't entitled to a second maternity grant if she hadn't yet returned to work after her first period of leave.

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The PPTA disputed this, and the ERA agreed with its interpretation.

WOULD MAKE A BIG DIFFERENCE

An extra six weeks' paid leave while at home with three children under 2 would have made a big difference to Wellington teacher Deborah Marshall.

The Titahi Bay mother had been teaching for eight years when she became pregnant with her eldest son, who was born in December 2008.

She was entitled to six weeks' paid leave and up to 24 months' unpaid leave. But before it expired she found out she was pregnant with twins.

She applied for another grant for her second pregnancy, but it was turned down by the Ministry of Education.

Marshall, who is now back doing long-term relieving, said her dispute with the ministry had taken four years, but she was pleased with the Employment Relations Authority decision, which means she will now be paid more than $8000.

"It would have been a huge help with the mortgage and daily life, especially because we had twins, which meant we had to buy a lot of extra equipment that we didn't need with our first child.

"I don't think it should be just teachers receiving this kind of financial support. It's a reflection that our union has a strong voice and I feel bad for all those women that don't have the same wonderful privileges."

- The Dominion Post

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