Monday, July 4, 2016

Fact-Check: Did Maternity Leave Really Arise Out Of A Postal Strike?

With the prospect of a postal strike on the horizon, I've been seeing increasing amounts of propaganda on social media, including this graphic (which appears to have been proliferated in connection with the 2011 strike):

Seems to make sense, no?  I mean, we're well accustomed to the idea that certain benefits, like the five-day work week and occupational health and safety protections, are the result of pressures by trade unions, so there's nothing unbelievable about the idea that mat leave might have arisen from labour disputes.

Except that this particular claim is totally and completely false.

Let's parse the post for a moment:  If you read all the fine print (you might have to zoom in a little), then it looks like the claim here is that the 1981 postal strike started the move toward what we now know as EI maternity/parental benefits.

It didn't.  In fact, EI first introduced maternity benefits in 1971, offering 15 weeks of benefits to qualifying mothers.  In 1990, additional parental benefits (available to fathers or mothers) were added, and expanded in 2000.

The union's push in 1981 didn't have anything to do with any of that.  The relevant issue, for our purposes, was that the EI (well, UI, at the time) benefits weren't enough:  Only 55% of insurable earnings.  So they negotiated a supplementary benefit from the employer (who in this case happens to be a Crown corporation) - getting more money over top of the EI benefit.

Okay, so the literal reading of this graphic's claim...isn't what happened.  But maybe the postal workers started a movement to improve the scale of EI benefits?  Nope, 35 years later, they're basically unchanged.

Or maybe they can take credit for starting a trend of employer-paid supplementary benefits, that might have percolated down to the general public?  No, not really that either.  As of 2008, only about 20% of new mothers were entitled to supplementary employer-paid maternity benefits.  Most of those were in the public sector, with about half of new mothers in the public sector being entitled to supplementary benefits for, on average, about 22 weeks.  In the private sector, it's quite rare to get any such benefits, and it's for a much shorter period of time.  (It's not even true that the postal workers were the first to get such benefits, but it clearly isn't something that's translated into the wider workplace like the five day work week.)

In other words, if you're one of the 20% of women who get some form of supplementary maternity benefit from your employer, then you can look at the 1981 strike as at least pushing on that issue a little.  If you're not such a person, however, then none of your mat leave rights trace back to the 1981 strike in any way.

I first saw the graphic because it was shared by a labour lawyer friend of mine...and so I feel that the occasion calls for this:


This blog is not intended to and does not provide legal advice to any person in respect of any particular legal issue, and does not create a solicitor-client relationship with any readers, but rather provides general legal information. If you have a legal issue or possible legal issue, contact a lawyer.

The author is a lawyer practicing in Newmarket, primarily in the areas of labour and employment law and civil litigation. If you need legal assistance, please contact him for information on available services and billing.

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