From the TUC

How I became a community champion and a union rep? – my story as a working mum

01 Sep 2017, By

I work two part-time jobs with different retailers. I was only doing one before, but because my hours were in the evenings it was very difficult to balance work and childcare.

I’d look after my son all day, then go to work and not be home to see my husband until 9 pm. I tried to change departments to get better shifts but in the end, it was easier to drop my hours and get the second job.

But then, because I was doing too many hours, I lost my childcare credits. We sat down one day and worked out that, once you took out the cost of childcare, I was only earning two pounds a week. That was very demoralising.

If one of my boys is sick, my priority is to take care of them. And because I’m an Usdaw rep, I know I have a legal right to take time off for that.

But in my previous job, anyone with an absence rate higher than 3% would have to go through a disciplinary process. I was only working four shifts a week so if I’d taken time off to look after my son it really pushed up my percentage and I’d be faced with a disciplinary hearing as soon as I came back.

I found that very difficult. And the more times I went through the disciplinary process, the more upset the bosses got with me.

It makes me sad that so many of my colleagues don’t know their rights and don’t fight for them. And I’d say 80% of management don’t understand the law either, which means it’s not easy to use your rights.

I requested to move departments for a long time, but so had a lot of others in my department and from a management perspective, they had more urgent reasons for needing to move, ie illness. The other retailer I work for is a small independent store with only 9 staff, which is a more personal environment but it’s not effective from a business perspective to allow all staff to work with such flexibility, which is totally understandable too.

I think the government’s whole attitude to working parents needs to change. People should be better off by working and encouraged to want to go back to the work place after having children. Not losing money when we already can’t afford to cut any hours on such a low wage.

It would also help if there was more support with childcare, including for younger children. We don’t qualify for childcare funding for our two-year-old, even though we don’t have much money.

Thankfully, I’ve now got a great role as a community champion. I have much more flexibility and thanks to that my life has done a 180-degree turn.

Good working conditions can make such a difference for young mums and dads. I really think employers and the government could do more to support them.

Kirsty Arthur is a 27-year-old mum of two from Cornwall. Her boys are 2 years old and 5 months old.

You can read the Better Jobs For Mums And Dads report here.