Equal Times

September 17, 2015

I took a hiatus from this blog to travel and housesit in Europe for the summer and now I am glad to be back at this blog, which is really an important archival project for me. As I travel from housesit to housesit, I can no longer take with me a mound of paper which contains all of the articles, reviews, poetry, short stories and other writing I have had published in magazines and newspapers over the years.

I cannot bear to just toss it out; end of story so I am sharing it with anyone who wants to read it and keeping it as a part of my written record for historical purposes. During my university and then writing career, I have often done historical research based on other peoples’ lives. I assume that others are or will interested in reading the record I have made of living in my time as I get older and after I die. Maybe my son, Luke Alexander Lester, will be one of those and who knows who else.

You might wonder why keep a record of old stories. You might think they have passed their shelf life. As someone with an historical background, I believe the past informs of us of what came before and can better guide us through the present and into the future. You might be surprised by what you run across in my blog and surprised that you find many of the posts in it to be interesting. In the piece that appears here, as in others, information on who to contact in the government is often not included as time changes that kind of information and is not of direct historical value.

The following is a column that I wrote in the early 1980s when I worked on The Gravelbourg Gazette weekly newspaper in Gravelbourg, Saskatchewan south of Regina on the Canadian prairies:

Wednesday, January 19, 1983

Equal Times

by Tanya Lester

“Twenty-four hours were too few for the sturdy pioneer woman, most of them worked in the fields, pregnant or not, and spent their nights weaving linen, cotton and wool to make clothes.

— The Pioneers, An Illustrated History of Early Settlement in Canada

Obviously, this hard work took its toll on pioneer women and the children which were born to them. The Women’s Division booklet, called “Saskatchewan Women 1905-1980” which is available at the library here, states there were 1756 infant deaths of children between the ages of one and five years old.

According to the booklet, causes of death included: “Mothers not in good physical condition during pregnancy, overworked and ill-nourished. Bronchitis and pneumonia (due to unhealthy surroundings). Digestive system diseases dure to improper and irregular feedings, impure milk, poor conditions, and flies, or diarrhea, scarlet fever, whooping cough, measles and diphtheria.”

Maternity leave legislation along with better health services and family planning has helped to decrease mother and infant deaths at or after child birth.

Today, women’s work around the home has been declined to a certain degree depending upon the number of modern conveniences she can afford and how much her husband or partner shares in the housework.

But , instead, especially during the present difficult economic times, both adults in the family are usually required to work outside the home in order to pay the bills.

So women must have time off from work in order to have children. If they didn’t, the country would become depopulated and die.

Under federal government legislation, pregnant women, if they have worked for the same employed for at heast a year without a break in employment, have the right to take 17 weeks leave and more if the child is born later than expected. She must take her leave sometime between 11 weeks before the birth and 17 weeks following the birth.

To qualify for the leave a woman must submit a written application to her employer at least four weeks before she intends to take her maternity leave. And although in most cases it would seem obvious, the law also requires the women to provide her employer with a medical certificate stating she is pregnant and her approximate delivery date.

Although it is not compulsory than an employee take maternity leaves, if she does, she must get her former job back and at the same salary after her leave is ended. The employer also has to continue any benefits, such as pension and those based on length of service, during the employee’s maternity leave.

Although the employee cannot be fired during her maternity leave, she must notify her employer 14 days before she intends to return to work. She is also entitled to up to six weeks extra leave if required for medical reasons and, again, she must give her employer a doctor’s certificate.

On the other hand, the employer can insist that a woman take her maternity leave earlier than she wants. But the boss must prove that her pregnancy is interfering with her work.

Under the Unemployment Insurance Act, women taking maternity leave can also apply for monetary benefits. The maternity benefit is 60 per cent of a woman’s average weekly earnings or up to $189 a week. She can receive up to 15 weeks of benefits depending upon her medical condition before and after the birth. A woman can receive these benefits whether she intends to return to work after the birth of not.

But in recent years women have become concerned with the amount of benefits they can receive from the federal government. An amount of $189 a week or less is not substantial especially at a time when there are so many added expenses such as clothing, food, equipment, and furniture for the new baby as well as medical exspenses.

If the woman happens to be a single parent, financial problems can be even more serious.

Unions have begun to ask employers to provide subsidies to the government benefits when they are bargaining on new contract settlements. For example, one aspect of the postal strike two summers ago, which was not highly enough publicized, was the fact that the indoor postal sorters wanted their crown corporation employer to provide them with a percentage of pay, over and above the unemployment insurance benefits, when a woman takes maternity leave.

Also, with more and more men wanting to be present at the birth and some taking on the role of househusband (the later John Lennon was probably the most famous househusband to date), men have begun to ask for paternity leave benefits.

Under federal government law, a man whose wife or common-law spouse is pregnant can take six weeks off work if he has worked for 12 continuous months with the same employer.

He, too, must apply in writing to his employer and has to get his job back after the paternity leave is finished. However, he can only start his leave from the day of birth or within three weeks after it.

Nor can a man receive money as paternity leave benefits.

Parents who adopt a child can take up to six weeks leave but again there are no monetary adoption leaves benefits.

Although maternity and paternity legislation has helped improve conditions as compared to the days when pregnant women had to work out int the fields, there are still many more improvements to be made…

–END–

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