The Association has proposed a significant revision to the maternity and parental leave Article in our Collective Agreement (Part 3, Article 6). There are a number of particular issues around maternity and parental leaves that we are attempting to solve.
The maternity and parental leave Article is rather peculiar – it does not, in fact, provide for any leaves. It is almost exclusively concerned with benefits, specifically the Supplemental Employment Benefits (SEB), by which UBC “tops up” Employment Insurance maternity and paternity leave benefits. Of course to benefit from the SEB members have to be claiming EI benefits, which not all new parents either are eligible for, or want to claim for other reasons. All members, whether or not they claim EI benefits are also entitled to unpaid maternity and parental leaves under the BC Employment Standards Act. Basically under the Act birth mothers who are employed are entitled to up to 17 consecutive weeks of unpaid maternity leave which may be extended by up to six consecutive weeks if they are unable to return to work for reasons related to the birth. The employer (UBC) is also required to provide an unpaid parental leave of 35 weeks for birth mothers and 37 weeks for fathers or adopting parents. Normally, of course, employees would be claiming EI benefits during those unpaid leaves but they do not have to claim EI benefits to be eligible for the unpaid leaves. Our proposal would clarify that in the Collective Agreement.
The Employment Standards Act requires that, as soon as the leave ends, the employer must place the employee in the position the employee held before taking leave or in a comparable position. We are not entirely sure this obligation has been followed for Lecturers and Sessionals, and we have proposed language that is consistent with the Act specifically dealing with these members.
We also wish to extend the right to unpaid leave under Employment Standards by giving members the right to an additional one year of unpaid parental leave. This provision exists in some other Collective Agreements and is of use to parents who wish to stay at home with a newborn or newly adopted child longer than the time guaranteed by Employment Standards. Of course since this extra leave is unpaid, there are no cost implications for the University.
The structure of the SEB and EI benefits had been this: EI required a two week waiting period with no benefits, and then provided benefits for the remaining 15 weeks (maternity) and/or 35 weeks (parental). The SEB topped up the EI benefits to 95% of pre-leave salary for the two-week waiting period, 15 weeks of maternity leave and 10 weeks of parental leave. So (for example) between SEB and EI a birth mother (for example) could receive 95% of pre-leave salary for 27 weeks. Recent changes in EI have reduced the waiting period to one week, which is inconsistent with the current language of the Agreement. We have proposed adding one week of full top up at the end of the 15 weeks of EI maternity so that a birth mother would continue to receive the same amount of total SEB and EI benefits as previously. The University has proposed reducing the SEB benefit by one week.
We also propose to increase the existing SEB benefit. It has become common for employers to top up to 100%. One way to do that is to provide an additional SEB top-up of 5% upon return to work. Currently the Administrative Executive group at UBC has that provision. We propose to add that provision for our members as well.
Finally, there is the issue of the timing of return to work. It sometimes happens that the natural end of a maternity leave occurs in the middle of a teaching term. This is a bit awkward, especially if the mother has been spending her maternity leave looking after a baby, and not preparing to take over classes part-way through. We have had reports that to avoid this awkward situation some members have been pressured to work during their leave, by doing marking and other work. This is not acceptable. We have proposed a period without assigned teaching and service duties at the end of the leave, to prevent this from happening.
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Next up on the blog: Tuition Waiver for Spouses/Partners