NE Scotland, Orkney & Shetland

Call to allow councillors to take family leave after having a baby

Gwyneth Petrie and James
Image caption Gwyneth Petrie is an Aberdeenshire councillor

A call has been made for the Scottish government to change the law around paid family leave for local councillors.

Under current legislation, councillors have no legal right to maternity or paternity leave of any kind.

It is up to each council to decide if extended leave should be granted.

Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin is now calling for action. The Scottish government said it was "absolutely determined" to resolve the issue.

Women make up 29% of Scottish councillors, and the umbrella body Cosla said it was doing what it could to encourage more.

Gwyneth Petrie, a councillor in Aberdeenshire, gave birth to baby James five months ago.

'Bit stressful'

She explained: "I informed the council early on in the pregnancy that I was pregnant because I knew that it hadn't really happened before.

"I think there has been someone in Aberdeenshire before but it was a good long time ago. So I knew there would have to be some work done as to what my maternity leave would be, what the set up would be.

"Unfortunately nothing happened until after I left post. In fact the meeting to decide how long my maternity leave could be wasn't until after my baby was actually born so it was just difficult. It was difficult to plan, it was a little bit stressful not knowing how long I was going to get off after he was here."

Image caption Baby James was born five months ago

As a local councillor, she is not legally entitled to parental leave of any kind. The length of time new parents can take off is at the discretion of each individual council.

In this case, Aberdeenshire Council agreed that the councillor should be granted extended paid leave.

Because there are no rules and regulations, she is on full pay throughout her maternity leave.

''This is where I think if there was legislative change, we could fix that because there was no provision under the legislation to say after so many months your pay drops to this, like it would in any other job," she said.

"So it is unfair, but because there was no provision to say this is what happens, there was no other way to deal with it."

'No compulsion'

There are now calls for family leave to be enshrined in law.

MSP Gillian Martin said: "It's not right. This is 2020.

"How can we have situation where we want to encourage particularly young people, and women, into politics but they don't have the basic right to have some time with their baby once they're born?"

Local Government Minister Kevin Stewart said: "We're absolutely determined to resolve this important issue to ensure councillors are treated fairly and equally.

"Barriers such as this which can prevent people seeking to become elected local councillors must be removed and we are actively working with Cosla to achieve this."

Cosla president Alison Evison said each local council would look at its own local circumstances and make its own decisions.

She said: "At Cosla, we've developed family leave guidance for councils to use to try and help people to reduce the barriers to elected office and we see this as a huge step forward but this guidance is voluntary.

"It's for councils to look at and decide whether they themselves want to take it on."

Cosla said only a handful of councils have so far adopted the new guidelines.

Councillor Petrie added: "There's no compulsion on the councils to implement that, which means that across the 32 local authorities any woman could be treated differently.

"So until there's some kind of formal arrangements in place, there's no equity to the system."

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