Quiet complicity

I stirred up some hornets at work today.

My employer, like so many now in the public sector, is bringing in a new system for assessing the performance of staff. For better or worse, annual incremental pay rises will now be linked to performance. This morning I had my first look at the bit of paper which will form the basis of employees’ annual appraisal, and there in hard black print, are the following words:

If no increment is being awarded please select the reason below: Minimum time not met – Maternity  leave 

I sat there blinking at this for a moment, then popped my head up above the computer screen and said, “Hey guys, have you read this?  This can’t be right.”

“Rebecca,” my colleague asked me with a sly grin, “do you have something to tell us?”

“No, I most certainly do not. I am not pregnant and have no plans to be ever again.” I felt my voice rising and cheeks flushing. “That’s not the point.”

The point is that to deny someone the chance of a pay increase because they have taken the maternity leave to which they have a right is, in my mind, quite certainly illegal under UK Equalities legislation. There is no reference to paternity leave or any other type of family leave which might be taken by either a mother or a father. Only maternity leave. Only leave taken by women.

“I’m raising a complaint about this.”

And my colleagues’ heads disappeared quickly behind their own computers, eager perhaps to dissociate themselves from the rebel in the corner.  “Ooh,” said one, like she was trying not to laugh, “good luck with that.”

To give my employer the benefit of the doubt, this is a careless oversight rather than a blatantly discriminatory move against women. I certainly hope so, anyway. And I hope they are willing to rewrite this without any kind of protracted argument. But all day I’ve been riding a wave of indignation, partly at the words on the form but also at the failure of some of my colleagues– my FEMALE colleagues–to display the same anger that had so overwhelmed me. Why didn’t their jaws hit the desk the way mine did?

And I can’t help but think that it’s because we have become so afraid, as employees and as a society, to speak up against the injustices that are done to us by those in power that we pretend we don’t see them. We are going to wake up one day soon and find that all the things our grandmothers and grandfathers fought and sometimes died for are gone. Things like equality and fair pay and workers’ rights. We don’t speak up because we’ve swallowed a myth. The myth is that you can always achieve more. You can always improve. With right attitude and the right gadgets you can always please more people with less money, less time, less medicine, less service, more more more for less less less. You can split yourself into ever tinier bits so that you can do right by your boss, your customers, your children, your partner, your 1,752 Facebook friends, your dog, your cat, and last but of course not least yourself, all at the same time. You can have continuous economic growth without some fundamentals eventually drying up and breaking down. Over the last day or so, I’ve heard a lot of people saying that Steve Jobs made the world a better place. Without denying the genius of the man and his inventions- one of which I am now typing on- I have to wonder: did he really? Is the world really a better place because you can take all your work home with you on your iPhone?

To be quiet in the face of overt injustice is to be complicit in it, so goes the saying. A voice in my head tells me I shouldn’t publish this particular blog. I could get hauled over the coals for this. Another, stronger voice, which sounds curiously like that of my dear late grandmother Lucy- who never learned to bite her tongue-tells me I have to.