Parental leave legislation for councillors in Scotland is “unfair” and needs to change, according to North East MSP Gillian Martin.
Calls have been made for changes to Scottish Government regulations to allow for an extended period of family absence for councillors.
Under the Local Governance (Scotland) Act 2004, councillors have no legal right to family leave of any kind; this barrier disproportionally impacts women who make up just 29% of Scottish Councillors.
Aberdeenshire East MSP Gillian Martin has raised the issue with Minister for Local Government, Housing and Planning, Kevin Stewart and leader of Aberdeenshire Council calling for the introduction of paid family leave for elected officials. This comes after local Aberdeenshire councillor, Gwyneth Petrie, faced major barriers following the birth of her son.
As there is no national entitlement to maternity leave, Gwyneth had to have her maternity leave approved by Full Council. The Huntly, Strathbogie and Howe of Alford councillor’s maternity leave was initially rejected by the Conservatives who wanted to give her just three months off, however this was fortunately overturned, due to significant challenge from the SNP Group Leader.
Commenting, Ms Martin said: “I believe wholeheartedly that councillors should be entitled to paid family leave and I am very disappointed by Aberdeenshire Council's unfair approach to family leave and the failure of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat leadership to develop a maternity leave policy.
“At the end of the day this is a real equalities issue, the absence of formal family leave acts as a key barrier to parents across Scotland who want to stand as elected officials, especially women. Do women who want a family have to exclude themselves from elected office? Aberdeenshire Council leaders by rejecting family leave guidance certainly give that impression and I think that is unacceptable in any modern working environment.
“Local authorities should be leading the way in supporting new families, particularly those considering adoption, but instead councillors don't have any rights to family leave.
“There needs to be a change in how elected officials are treated at work as they look to start a family. I will be urging both the Scottish Government and Aberdeenshire Council to adopt stronger policies for family leave and in doing so making serving your community as an elected representative open to all.”
Gwyneth Petrie added: “I had to start my maternity leave period without any certainty as to how much time the administration at Aberdeenshire Council would deem long enough for me to have off as paid leave. In fact, it wasn’t decided until after my baby was born.
“This uncertainty added a level of stress to my life at a time when I should have solely been looking forward to the birth of my son.
“Having such major decisions taken at the whim of each council administration is unfair and unsustainable- particularly if we want to encourage women into politics. I fully support Gillian’s work to deliver a more progressive and consistent position on this.”
A spokesperson for Aberdeenshire Council said; "We are aware of the COSLA guidance on Family Leave for councillors for Scottish local authorities to consider implementing on a voluntary basis. Aberdeenshire Council is currently working on how this might be applied locally and will adopt a policy position on this in due course."