Kathryn van Beek is a former TEU Te Kura Matatini ki Otago | Otago Polytechnic branch member, and current Senior Internal Communications Advisors at Dunedin Hospital. Here, van Beek discusses the passing of the Holidays (Bereavement Leave for Miscarriage) Amendment Bill (No2), which entitles prospective parents bereavement leave in the event of a miscarriage or stillbirth.
When I went through pregnancy loss a few years ago I had a look through the Holidays Act to check my leave entitlements.
The wording in the Act was ambiguous, and I wasn’t sure if miscarriage ‘counted’ as a reason to take bereavement leave.
But I definitely felt bereaved. We’d seen the baby on a monitor, heard its heartbeat and started decorating its room. We hadn’t expected anything to go wrong, and I felt a huge sense of loss when it did.
Not having accessible bereavement leave made a lonely experience feel even more isolating.
I checked with MBIE who said that it was up to individual employees to have conversations with their employers about their eligibility for bereavement leave. I thought that sounded like a pretty hard conversation for someone in the middle of the grieving process to have.
I wrote a letter to my MP Clare Curran and she invited me to her office for a chat. Clare asked me to gather evidence to demonstrate the need for bereavement leave for pregnancy loss, so I started a petition and sourced testimonials from people in various support groups.
Clare connected me with MP Ginny Andersen who drafted a Members’ Bill proposing a clarification of the Act to ensure that people impacted by pregnancy loss could take bereavement leave.
Bills are drawn by ballot, and there was a good chance that it might never have been drawn. But it was, and in the years since Ginny and others worked hard on the Bill, re-drafting it in response to feedback.
Along the way, the Bill had three readings in the House. Most Members’ Bills don’t pass their first reading, but at each reading MPs from across the House stood up and spoke to the importance of the change – sometimes sharing very personal experiences.
I was able to attend the third reading in March. Once again, MPs from across the House shared their own experiences. Pregnancy loss is a difficult thing to talk about, and I think it’s amazing that our politicians stood up in such a public forum and shed light on some taboo subjects.
News of the change quickly spread around the world, and it’s exciting to see that other countries are now having their own discussions about bereavement leave for pregnancy loss.
Thanks and congratulations are due to Clare Curran, The Select Committee and everyone who made submissions on the Bill or helped in other ways. I would also like to acknowledge the TEU and the PSA who strongly advocated for this change. And of course, Ginny Andersen deserves her own special thank you for her excellent work shepherding the Bill through the House and securing cross-party support.
I hope this story will inspire people who have other ideas for change to have a chat with their local MPs about their options.
Last year, TEU released our submission in support of the Bill, expressing a commitment to recognising the vulnerability of mother and partner, and calling for a greater acknowledgement and encouragement of reciprocity of support between employers and employees. Irena Brorens Assistant National Secretary – Industrial says, ‘TEU are very pleased to see this Bill passed. It has been a claim in our collective agreement negotiations and we were successful in achieving this at Otago Polytechnic because of Kathryn’s advocacy for this important change, which now applies to all workers across the country’.