I work as a full-time science and math teacher with Education Queensland – the public education sector. I am only on contract, as I haven’t quite worked long enough to be transferred over to permanent yet.
I am sharing my experience with my maternity leave situation in case any other ladies out there end up in my position!
Here is a quick rundown of my teaching career history:
- Gained employment from the beginning of term 1 after graduating the previous year
- Worked at the same state school for 1.5 years (initial 12 month contract that was renewed for another 12 months)
- Left the system at the end of term 2 of my second year to go live and teach in London for a year
- Came back during term 3 of the following year, and returned straight to the same state school I was in before, working there until the end of that year
- Spent term 1 of the following year working in a private school
- Returned to the same state school at the beginning of term 2, and have stayed there since
- Currently in term 4
- Total time worked at the same state school = almost 3 years, all of it on contract
Part way through term 2 of this year, we found out I was pregnant. While it was genuinely a happy thing for us, I immediately started worrying about my maternity leave.
Rules here in Australia generally state that to access paid maternity leave from your employer, you must be working with them for 12 months prior to taking the leave. I checked the advice given from the Queensland Teachers Union in this document to see what the go is. Given our due date of January, it would mean that technically I hadn’t worked with them for 12 months leading up to taking leave because I’d only re-started in term 2. While the document is great, I still wasn’t entirely sure if I was eligible or not, based on that 12-month thing.
I called up the Union to clarify whether or not I would be eligible.
The Union told me that for Education Queensland, you need to have worked 12 consecutive months at some point before taking leave, and they don’t have to be the 12 months immediately leading up to the leave.
I had fulfilled that in my first year as a teacher, and even though it was 3 years ago it still counted and I was eligible!
But I’m not permanent…
Next came the other sticky point – I’m not permanent.
If I were permanent, rather than being on contract, all I would have to do is fill in the leave application and away we go.
So I contacted the Union again to see what I needed to do now.
I was told that I would only be able to take leave if I had a contract to take leave from. That made perfect sense to me, so once I had told the school that I was pregnant, I started asking about contracts for next year.
I know that contracts within Ed QLD are incredibly complicated (for some unfathomable reason), and usually we aren’t told whether our contract will be renewed with the school until late in term 4. This simply wasn’t acceptable to me, because I needed to know if I was going to be paid maternity leave or not – that would change absolutely everything about the following year, financially, emotionally, mentally, even physically. If I wasn’t able to access the paid maternity leave from Ed QLD, I would need to return to work much quicker than I wanted to.
I admit I ended up hassling the school quite a bit, keeping in constant contact with the union throughout. I was terrified about not getting paid maternity leave, and desperate to know whether or not I would be able to get a contract to take leave from. I was continuously told that there was no way for the school to know if they could offer me a contract, because they didn’t know about staffing arrangements for next year.
This continued on into term 4, where I ended up being very frank with them and saying I needed to know now, because I need to technically give 10 weeks notice to take the leave. As we’d already started term 4, and it is a 10 week term, I was already breaking that rule.
My principal ended up saying she wasn’t even sure if they could offer me a contract, knowing I was going to be taking leave from it immediately. I asked the Union about this, and their response was that the comment could be taken as discrimination, and it is illegal to not offer a contract based on the fact that I am pregnant (I didn’t take this information back to the school, as I felt my principal didn’t make that comment in order to be discriminatory, she was simply saying what she thought might be the case).
Finally one of the deputies called HR and asked what do we all do in this ‘very unusual’ situation. Their response surprised everyone – this isn’t an unusual situation at all, and happens fairly regularly.
Simply extend the contract
What the school can do in this situation, where the pregnant teacher is on contract with Ed QLD, is to simply extend the length of the contract so that it ends on the last day of the paid maternity leave. After this point, you effectively don’t have a contract with Ed QLD, but when you are ready to return to work you get in contact with the school/department and see what’s available. They don’t keep a position open for you, like they would if you were permanent, so you are effectively job-hunting along with the rest of the pool of teachers.
The extension of your contract depends on whether you take the paid maternity leave at full-pay (14 term-weeks) or at half-pay (28 term weeks). The school holidays are excluded from the maternity pay, and you are paid your normal amount during that time regardless of whether you are taking the leave at full- or half-pay.
Because my leave will start a few days before the end of the school year, there is another tricky situation with the Christmas holidays. The way you are paid over the Christmas holidays differs depending on your contract situation. If your contract is ‘ending’ and ‘restarting’ with the term dates, you are paid a lump-sum amount. If you contract is simply extended, as mine has been, you are paid fortnightly over the break as usual.
I have chosen to take the leave at half-pay, and because of the start date of the leave and the Easter and mid-year school holidays, it will carry me through until mid-term 3.
After this point, I am going to access the Centrelink Parent Leave scheme (government-paid maternity leave). This will carry us through with some form of income (much smaller than my working income, but at least it’s something) until almost the end of December. Which means I’ll be able to take the full school year off to be with my new bub, just like I’d always hoped to!
Here is a summary if you are also currently on contract with Ed QLD and looking to access paid maternity leave
Please do consult HR, your school, and the Union (if you are a member) to make sure the information is applicable in your situation. Don’t take my situation as your own or as gospel, as your circumstances may differ and therefore affect your eligibility.
- You must have worked 12 consecutive months with Ed QLD at some point in your teaching career
- You must have a contract to be able to take leave from
- Schools cannot refuse to offer you a contract, or extend your current contract, based on your pregnancy
- The school has the opportunity to simply extend your contract to the last day of your paid maternity leave so that you can access it (if your contract does not already extend that far)
- They do not have to keep a position open for you to return to, or extend your contract beyond the end point of the paid leave time – you are back to job-hunting unless the school happens to have something for you
- If eligible, you will receive 14 weeks pay at your normal rate, which can be accessed at 14 weeks full-pay or 28 weeks half-pay
- The weeks are term-weeks and exclude school holidays, where you will receive your normal pay
What are your experiences with accessing paid maternity leave through your work? Was it a straight-forward process, or did it cause you as much stress as it caused me?
This information was correct as of Term 4 2017 – check with your school, HR, Ed QLD, and the Union for your own situation.
This article is also published on Actual Mums.
About the Author:
Emily is a secondary science and math teacher in Australia. She enjoys blogging about her experiences, facilitating the ‘light bulb’ moment in her students, and drinking tea and wine. Emily is currently on maternity leave with her first child. You can read more teaching articles from Emily here, or about her life as a new mum over at Actual Mums.