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This article belongs to the Women and Scottish Railway History Collection
The railway has been an integral part of my life since I was a baby, as my mother joined the railway in July 1989. Seeing the changes over the years is what has inspired this article. Conditions for the working mothers of Scotrail have changed dramatically from 1989 to the current day. These changes and experiences will be explored through conversations with three working railway mothers.
In the 1980s, women were largely expected to stay at home to look after their children, so working while having a family was challenging. There were no flexible working policies at this time to help mothers balance work and family commitments, and so they often had to rely on family for childcare.
If a woman had been working when she became pregnant, she was entitled to some form of Statutory Maternity Pay. The Statutory Maternity Pay regulations of 1986 show that pregnant women at this time were given 12 weeks’ pay (Legisation.gov.uk, n.d.). This is in stark contrast to the current 39 weeks available for women (gov.uk, n.d.).
Marion Parker, job share ticket examiner, mother of three adult children
In 1989 when my mother joined the railway, I was only 1 year old and my brothers were 2 and 13. My father was studying for a full-time degree, and later became a full-time Health and Safety Executive.
Reflecting over the years my Mum can’t believe the changes that have come about for working mothers. My Mum worked constant backshifts for around eight years, to enable my Dad to gain his degree, which also meant she was around to look after us through the day. Sometimes if my Dad wasn’t home in enough time for Mum leaving for work, we all went to work – buggy, colouring books, the lot. We trekked out on the trains to Mum’s work, and then she would arrange for either a family member or my Dad to fetch us from a station.
we were a bit older, Dad worked closer to home, and Mum went back on to a
normal railway working pattern. This would roughly consist of one week of early
starts from 4am to 10am, and then it would be a week of backshifts, which ranged
from starting at 1pm until 6pm. With weekend working too, she worked unsociable
hours, on top of looking after her family. However, Mum loves her job and
always says she wouldn’t have had it any other way – and neither would I. Now,
I work alongside people who used to keep me entertained on the trains as a child
and I have very fond memories of the railway, as well as a career for life.
Flexible working policies are needed!
The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) archives show that a flexible working policy did not come into effect until 2014, by which time we were all grown up (RMT, 2014).
At the time of writing, Scotrail’s Family Friendly policy states that assessments are carried out to identify hazards in the workplace that could be a risk to new, expectant, or breastfeeding mothers. When notified that an employee is pregnant, the manager should arrange for a specific risk assessment of the job to be carried out and discuss this with the employee. When returning to work the employee should alert the manager if she is breastfeeding in order that they can consider any risks and make any necessary arrangements. If the employee has any specific concerns, she should raise this with her manager who can contact Health and Safety or Human Resources for further advice (TUC, 2015).
Marie Fox, Ticket Examiner at Scotrail – Mother of two, full-time, set 35 hours
to current times and we see enormous differences in the lives of mothers
working in Scotland’s railway. Marie Fox has been employed with Scotrail since
2014. Marie is a valued and committed employee, who has won an award for her
charity work. The unfamiliar experience of informing a manager about her
pregnancy understandably concerned Marie, but she thankfully
received the reassurance she sought.
Marie described the various pros and cons of becoming a working mother in Scotland’s Railway. One of the benefits was being able to work with her union to negotiate a flexible working agreement upon returning to work after her first child. Marie praised the union for their assistance during this time as it was all unknown territory to her and, sadly, the information coming directly from Scotrail at the time was somewhat conflicting.
Fast forward to mid-2022, where Marie is on maternity leave after having her second child. Marie is due to return to work in a few months, but as her circumstances have changed, the need for additional childcare has changed, so we will be supporting Marie in negotiating new terms for this return to work. As I have recently became a union representative, I have been pleasantly surprised at how straightforward it has been to get a hold of all of Scotrail’s policies, which are now kept on the company’s intranet for all employees to access. Marie told me that this was already an improvement from her previous experience during her first pregnancy. Marie advised me that during both pregnancies she had to follow a risk assessment laid out by the company.
Natasha Ferguson – Revenue Team Manager at Scotrail - Mother of one, full-time – flexible weekly roster based on 0900-1700 shifts
promoted working mothers are also encouraged by Scotrail. Natasha Ferguson has
worked for Scotrail for 14 years and is currently a Revenue Team Manager, at
the age of only 36. Natasha’s positive attitude is demonstrated by her being
nominated for different Leadership awards: for one of these, she was nominated
by her own manager and for the other by her team members.
After four years’ employment, Natasha had her son. The process of maternity leave was simple to arrange and her position of Travel Shop Team Leader was covered. On her return, Natasha was successful in gaining a place on the Management Apprenticeship programme. Although she requested family friendly hours in 2012–2013, the application wasn’t handled correctly, which caused issues due to the different placement hours and locations. Therefore, Natasha relied heavily on support from parents, grandparents and her husband, who worked mostly at home during the apprenticeship. Sadly, Natasha feels she wasn’t supported by the company and was made to feel like she was asking for the impossible. However, she felt grateful towards her peers and managers.
Ever ambitious, Natasha gained a promotion to her current role. Fortunately, the Revenue Team Manager roster enables her to arrange shift swaps with other managers, which allows her to secure a 0900–1700, which has helped hugely.
Natasha is glad to have not missed any important parts of her son’s life, as well as focusing on building her family a strong future at the same time as furthering her own career. She says: ‘For children, I think seeing their mum work creates a great work ethic and removes gender inequality. It’s also a learning curve for kids to having to adapt to different situations and social circles.’ For new working mothers in Scotland’s railway, she advises: ‘Be prepared! Shift work and children is tough, and it’s not the company’s responsibility to create the balance. Do your homework on childcare, flexible working timings and your immediate support network.’
Here, the different experiences of working mothers on Scotland’s railway show the ways that the development of having flexible working policies has made a real and positive difference to the balance of mothers’ working lives.
References, sources and links
Gov.uk (n.d.) ‘Maternity Pay and Leave’.
Available at https://www.gov.uk/maternity-pay-leave/pay (Accessed: 27 April 2022).
Legislation.gov.uk (n.d.) ‘The Statutory Maternity Pay (General) Regulations 1986’. Available at: https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/1986/1960/1989-04-02 (Accessed: 27 April 2022).
National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) (2014) ‘Changes to Flexible Working Regulations: Circular No. NP/074/14’. Available at: https://www.rmt.org.uk/about/policies/political-circulars-and-submissions/changes-to-flexible-working-regulations1104/ (Accessed: 28 April 2022).
Leave and Pay for Mothers, including Shared
Parental Leave and Pay:
Trades Union Congress (TUC) (2015) ‘Leave and Pay for Mothers’. Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/TUC%20KYR_Maternity_LO%20spreads.pdf (Accessed 29 April 2022).
Parents having a Child Through Surrogacy, including Shared Parental Leave and Pay:
Trades Union Congress (TUC) (2015) ‘Time Off and Pay for Parents Having a Child Through Surrogacy’. Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/KYR_Surrogacy.pdf (Accessed: 20 April 2022).
Trades Union Congress (TUC) (n.d.) ‘Guide to Parental Leave’. Available at: https://www.tuc.org.uk/workplace-guidance/family-friendly-work/parental-leave (Accessed: 20 April 2022).
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