FBU balloons on a demonstration

The Fire Brigades Union (FBU) has published a new report into maternity pay and provisions in the fire service which has found that there is a staggering £15,000 difference in maternity pay available between different fire services. Freedom of Information requests have revealed that a firefighter in Cornwall receives £15,000 less maternity pay than a counterpart in Staffordshire.

The FBU has said women are firefighters are being ‘systematically undervalued’ by current maternity arrangements.

Presently, the national minimum for maternity pay for firefighters provides just 90 per cent pay for an initial six weeks, decreasing to 50 per cent pay for 12 weeks, followed by statutory maternity pay. In some services, the FBU’s campaigning has been able to secure superior maternity provision beyond this. However, the union says that the low minimum standard has created a postcode lottery of maternity pay.

The FBU is now calling for action to address the disparity. The union says it wants to see 12 months maternity leave on full pay for all firefighters across the UK.

Improving provisions for maternity and caring responsibilities will improve the recruitment of women into the fire service, the union claims. Presently, just one in ten firefighters in the UK are women.

Ben Selby, Fire Brigades Union assistant general secretary, said: “It cannot be right that a new mother in Cornwall gets £15,000 less than a new mother in Staffordshire. This system is unfair and systematically undervalues women firefighters.

“Every year, women are forced to return to work too early – to a job that is physically and psychologically stressful – because their maternity leave is so bad. Others have experienced serious economic hardship.

“There is clear evidence that exposure to toxic fire contaminants is a threat to the health of new mothers and babies.

“The fight for equality in the fire and rescue service is vital. But the service cannot hope to recruit and retain women firefighters if it continues to have such poor and patchy maternity leave provision.

“We urge employers not to miss this opportunity to properly address the problem, and to agree to a UK-wide policy of twelve months on full pay.”

The FBU’s report details testimonies the union has collected from firefighters. One said: “When I was pregnant, I had one contract terminated when I told [the service], and my temporary promotion ended all because I was pregnant. This was made clear in an email sent to me.”

“Honestly, working for a professional government body, I wouldn’t have believed I would ever end up in this situation. Both my maternity leaves have been tainted with stress and anxiety due to our absolutely appalling maternity pay.”

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Image credit: Socialist Appeal – Creative Commons