05.12.2023 / News /
I’ve become a father for the first time. I was also lucky to be working for UVW when my daughter was born and to meet the statutory and contractual requirements to qualify for paternity leave. This makes me one of the luckiest fathers in the whole country. UVW is at the forefront of the fight for better parental leave and is leading by example, offering staff some of the best parental leave in the UK.
Workers in Britain get the worst paternity leave in Europe, with most men only taking a couple of weeks off work when their children are born. Nearly a third of fathers took no paternity leave at all after the birth of their child, according to research by UCL. While we might think of this as meaning less time off for men, what it actually means is more reproductive labour for women.
Women being solely responsible for childcare was normal in Britain at the start of the 20th century, with the church and state expecting women to stay at home and look after children. But as women have entered the workplace, all that’s happened is women are allowed some time off before returning to work. Women are expected to be the main carer for children, while maintaining their careers.
Maternity leave was only introduced in Britain in 1975, until then it was normal for women to be sacked when they became pregnant. Since then there’s been some changes to parental rights but we’re still waiting for men to be given equivalent leave. Men have only had the right to paid paternity leave since 2003. But as a union led by strong women, this is something UVW is miles ahead of other employers on. All the staff are entitled to the same leave when they have children.
This was something I was able to use following the birth of my daughter. UVW gives all staff six months off on full pay and six months off on half pay when they have children. It’s the same for mothers and fathers.
When the birth was approaching, I naively expected to be able to use some of the time off to pursue my hobbies. I didn’t realise how the arrival of a child would completely transform my life. Babies require near constant attention, particularly in the first few months of life. Nearly everything I did before our daughter arrived had to stop, caring for a child without cracking up is definitely a job for two people.
I don’t know how other men return to work so quickly and it’s clearly not fair on women to be left in sole responsibility of a child. Having to keep a newborn fed, appropriately dressed, in clean nappies and ensure they don’t roll off whatever you’ve put them on is exhausting and needs to be shared.
While I was off work I was able to take on these responsibilities and take our child to give my partner regular breaks. This meant they could catch up with sleep or just have some time off from being constantly aware of our baby and meeting their needs. One of the highlights of my paternity leave was bringing my daughter to Casa UVW to meet the inspirational women who work for the union.
The experience of trying to share childcare has definitely made me a better feminist. We’ve tried to share everything as much as possible. There have been times where I’ve had to take on nearly all the regular housework, such as cooking, cleaning and running the household. It gives men the time to take on an equal (or larger share) of the ‘mental load’, which can often disproportionately fall on women’s shoulders.
When I was telling an anarcha-feminist comrade about this they told me of an old Francophone slogan which says: “If [men] want to be feminists, they can start by cleaning up after themselves.”
Longer parental leave can help to make this a reality. This is something the union movement and feminists should be fighting for together. As a woman-led union, UVW is at the front of this fight.
If you want to fight for better parental rights, we can help you to organise your workplace.
Join UVW today and then get in touch with our organisers’ team.
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