Maternity leave; not ALL bad, you know

by Maria on August 8, 2013

I’ve never been fortunate enough to take maternity leave, but boy have I benefited from it. When I changed career in the late 1990s from film and tv production in Ireland to technology policy in the UK, my first two jobs started as maternity cover positions. I was hired by the Confederation of British Industry and then by The Law Society to be an Internet policy wonk at a time when that was such a new thing, there were maybe half a dozen jobs doing it in the UK and I was one of the first people who’d trained especially for it. (The LSE hadn’t heard of Internet policy either, tbh, but they bemusedly let me write a Masters dissertation on it, because, well, why not?)

But the point is I don’t think either organisation would have been as keen to take a punt on a career-changer like me in a permanent job, even though both subsequently offered me one. A 9 – 12 month interim position was ideal for all three parties; me getting an opportunity to help create a new field, the employer trying out someone new effectively for free (everyone seems to forget that in the UK statutory maternity leave is paid by the government), and the person whose job it was who could take their proper leave and then come back to work.

Of course, where it gets messy and unfair is when employers decide they like the shiny new person more and shunt the returning worker aside, or when they don’t bother to cover the position at all and expect the existing workers to pick up the slack. I’m not saying those things never happen, even in a system where we have decent-ish protections for working mothers, just pointing out one happy though unintended consequence of maternity leave.

UPDATE: Of course the reality for UK working mothers on their return is often far from rosy, with half of them saying their careers have utterly stalled since having children, and a quarter believing they are discriminated against:

Fingerprinting migrants in France: the back story

by Chris Bertram on August 8, 2013

The big item on this morning’s UK news (Guardian, BBC) is a report by the Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, John Vine, that is highly critical of the UK Border Force. Large sections of the report have been redacted, leading opposition politicians, such as Labour’s Chris Bryant, to accuse Home Secretary Theresa May and Immigration Minister Mark Harper of a “cover up”. What struck me about the report, though, was the basic failure in reporting by the news media, such that the ordinary reader or listener would really not understand the back story.

From the BBC report:

But inspectors found UK officials at Calais had stopped taking photographs and fingerprints of illegal immigrants in 2010 because of problems with the availability of cells to hold people in. This was also later stopped at Coquelles. Mr Vine said: “Gathering biometric information such as fingerprints could assist the decision-making process if these individuals were ultimately successful in reaching the UK and went on to claim asylum.”

The reporting follows the UK Home Office in stigmatizing people as “illegal” in advance of any judicial process, but it also fails to explain the background in the Dublin Regulation that states that people can only claim asylum in the first EU country they enter. This means that states in northern Europe, such as the UK, can disclaim responsibility for people fleeing persecution, just so long as they can show that the asylum seekers were previously present in another member state. This adds to armoury of extra-territorial checks (fines on carriers etc) that make it impossible for asylum seekers to reach the UK legally. Since most asylum seekers enter the EU through southern Europe (many dying in leaky boats in the Mediterranean), the Dublin Regulation effectively assigns responsibility to those states least able to cope (partly because of the Eurozone crisis) and where racism, xenophobia and violence towards foreigners is most marked. (There are regular horror stories about the suffering of asylum seekers in Greece.) A progressive policy would both recognize our humanitarian obligations towards refugees and put in place a mechanism for sharing that responsibility fairly across all EU member states. Unfortunately, rather than campaigning for such a policy, politicians of the “left” in northern Europe, like Bryant, use episodes like this to make a noise about “controlling our borders”.