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Thursday 8 December 2016

New rules on sick leave 'unfair' to teachers with high-risk pregnancies

Mairead Wilson, ASTI Stillorgan Branch, at the ASTI conference at The Inec, Killarney
Mairead Wilson, ASTI Stillorgan Branch, at the ASTI conference at The Inec, Killarney

IT IS her most private anguish but Dublin teacher Mairead Wilson felt compelled to speak about losing two children through miscarriage to highlight what she sees as the "unfairness" in how pregnancy -related illness is treated in the public service.

The young mother of one, who took 18 months unpaid leave following the birth of her son 12 weeks prematurely, says she would love another child.

But apart from the worry of another high-risk pregnancy, Mairead is also worried about the financial penalty of having used up all her 'sick days'.

Teachers are now calling for pregnancy-related illness to be treated separately to other illnesses and not be counted as sick days.

Due to changes introduced in the Public Service Sick Leave Scheme, effective since September 2014, a pregnancy-related illness now counts towards a teacher's total sick-leave allowance.

Teachers are entitled to six months sick leave in any four-year period, made up of a full-pay and half-pay element.

But ASTI (Association of Secondary Teachers, Ireland) members say this is an equality issue and women are being "punished" for having difficult pregnancies.

"These things are taboo and people don't want to speak about it, but someone has to because we're easy targets," Mairead told delegates at the ASTI conference in Killarney.

"People don't want to say, 'I failed, my body failed me' because it's embarrassing and I feel the same and I don't want people to pity me.

"But now I have a son I can admit this, and I'm not unique. Many women go through it and policies like this take advantage of the fact that we're women and we're vulnerable."

Because of her history, any subsequent pregnancy will be treated as 'high risk'.

"If I'm lucky enough to get pregnant again and get to the point of viability, then it means bed rest so I can hold onto the baby. How many more financial penalties am I going to have to take?" she said.

hnews@herald.ie

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