International Women’s Day, Thursday 8 March 2012
Thursday 8 March marks International Women’s Day. This day has been observed since the early 1900′s. With more women in male dominated jobs, an increase in equality in legislative rights and an increase of women’s visibility as role models in every aspect of life, you could think that women have gained true equality. The unfortunate fact is that women are still not paid equally to that of their male counterparts, women are still not present in equal numbers in business or politics, women still face discrimination during pregnancy/maternity and globally women’s education, health and the violence against them is far worse than that of men.
The fire service is no different from any other organisation when it comes to potential discrimination during pregnancy. There are increasing numbers of women members being removed or threatened to be removed from their shift during pregnancy. The FBU has seen an increase in the amount of grievances our women members are taking out against their fire and rescue service when they become pregnant.
The common argument from the fire and rescue service is one of productivity therefore changing women’s shift patterns and working arrangements in order to fulfil another role. Many cases are mirrored throughout the UK with some ending up in an employment tribunal.
The Grey Book clearly states that “Pregnant employees will normally remain on their watch, or in their department, unless this is deemed inappropriate following an individual risk assessment”.
We have found that fire and rescue services rarely carry out an individual risk assessment but still try and remove members from their shift/department.
I would urge any members who have been told that they need to move from their current shift whilst pregnant to contact their FBU rep and seek advice.
The coalition government are also planning another attack on women’s rights by proposing a reduction in maternity leave to 18 weeks. Reducing the maternity leave period to 18 weeks gives the message that this is the normal period of leave needed for women to prepare and recover from childbirth and to bond and care for a newborn baby.
Under the government’s proposals, there is an increased risk that some women will be pressured to return to work early by their employer or a partner if 18 weeks is seen as the ‘norm’ for maternity, particularly if there is a lack of job security or the family has financial worries.
The FBU are responding to these proposals along with the TUC and objecting to any such reduction.
On a final note – International Women’s Day should not be a reminder about the negatives but a celebration of the positives and thousands of events are held throughout the world to inspire women and celebrate achievements.
So make a difference, think globally and act locally. Make everyday International Women’s Day. Do your bit to ensure that the future for girls and women is bright, equal, safe and rewarding.
Denise Christie, FBU executive council member for women