A question on teachers’ maternity leave submitted by Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil to the European Commission is set to open, once again, a can of worms on teachers’ working conditions – particularly if the ruling goes in their favour.
On 2 July, Dr Busuttil asked whether “maternity leave (should) be lost simply because it clashes with normal leave or the summer holidays of the employing entity, in this case State schools”.
His premise was that a number of pregnant teachers working in State schools in Malta have lodged complaints about the fact that “when their maternity leave coincides with their school’s summer vacation, which is granted as a holiday for all teachers, the relevant period of maternity leave is automatically forfeited and subsumed into the summer holidays”.
As a result, Dr Busuttil continued, “they lose all or part of their entitlement to maternity leave, even though the EU law stipulates that such leave must last a minimum of 14 weeks.
“Can the Commission provide information as to whether, under EU law and the case-law of the European Court of Justice, women who are in this situation can expect to retain their full entitlement to maternity leave, over and above their summer holidays?” Dr Busuttil asked.
In other words, what Dr Busuttil is trying to clarify is whether teachers who give birth in July, August or early September, when schools are closed for the summer, should continue to enjoy their holidays, with the 14 weeks of maternity leave starting officially on the first day of the following scholastic year.
This would mean that they would miss the first term of school completely, as this runs for 14 weeks up to the Christmas holidays, when schools close again for two weeks. These teachers would then be back at school in January.
The question also seems to concern teachers who give birth a few weeks before the summer holidays, although this is not specified. It is implied that these pregnant teachers are suggesting that if, for example, they give birth in mid-May, their maternity leave is “suspended” once the school holidays start and resumed when the academic year starts in September.
No reference is made to the Christmas and Easter holidays, and whether pregnant teachers are proposing that these should not be incorporated in the 14 weeks’ of maternity leave they are entitled to.
As things stand now, teachers who give birth just before or during the holidays “lose” their maternity leave entitlement, or part of it, as this is incorporated into their summer vacation. Other employed mothers get their maternity leave added to their annual leave entitlement of 24 days.
Teachers have at least 50 days of vacation leave in summer, to which one must add another two weeks of leave at Christmas, one week at Easter and mid-term holidays in November and for Carnival.
The European Commission normally takes six weeks to answer questions submitted by MEPs, and so one would expect a reply on this question some time in mid-August.
A number of questions were sent to the Malta Union of Teachers for its views on the situation. The union was asked whether it agrees with the stand made by these teachers, whether it believes that the maternity leave is “lost” because it coincides with the summer holidays, whether the union has made representations to the authorities on this subject and whether it expects the government to adhere to the ruling given by the EC.
The MUT chose to send in the following comment:
“The MUT is discussing maternity leave entitlement of teaching grades with the authorities concerned. The union is also raising similar concerns regarding parental leave and pre-retirement leave entitlement of teaching grades. Whereas other public service employees may avail themselves of up to one year parental leave according to the exigencies of their family, teaching grades are constrained either to resume work by the end of February or in September. Maternity and pre-retirement leave coinciding with holidays are ‘lost’.
“The MUT believes that a fair balance must be found between the exigencies of the service and the entitlement of teaching grades.”
A spokesman for the Education Ministry said that the “government is looking into the implications” of the situation, and would not comment any further at this stage.