Revealed: firefighters face £15,000 gap in postcode lottery on maternity pay

  • New research shows £15,000 gap in maternity pay between best and worst fire services, with local fire and rescue services ranked
  • Toxic fire contaminants putting babies and mothers at risk, report finds
  • Union demands 12 months on full pay to address safety and recruitment concerns

A new report into maternity pay and provisions in the fire service has been published by the Fire Brigades Union. Women firefighters are “systematically undervalued” by the current arrangements, the union says.

Information gathered from fire and rescue services across England has uncovered vast inequality in maternity pay. FOI requests reveal that a firefighter in Cornwall receives £15,000 less than their counterpart in Staffordshire in maternity pay.

The report includes a leaderboard of fire and rescue services, which can be viewed on page 9.

The national minimum for maternity pay for firefighters provides only 90% pay for an initial 6 weeks, decreasing to 50% pay for 12 weeks, followed by statutory maternity pay. In some services, the FBU’s campaign has been able to secure superior maternity provision beyond this. However, this low minimum standard has created a postcode lottery.

To address this disparity, the new report makes the case for twelve months of maternity leave on full pay for all UK firefighters. It cites research which has found that exposure to contaminants while firefighting impacts the health of pregnant firefighters, foetuses, and babies.

The union argues that improving the provisions for maternity and caring responsibilities will also have a positive impact on the recruitment and retention of women in the fire and rescue service. At present, just one in ten firefighters are women.

‘Fight for 52’ includes several case studies of the impact of current maternity pay, collected by the FBU’s National Women’s Committee, including the following:

“When I was pregnant, I had one contract terminated when I told [the service], and my temporary promotion ended all because I was pregnant. This was made clear in an email sent to me.”

“Honestly, working for a professional government body, I wouldn’t have believed I would ever end up in this situation. Both my maternity leaves have been tainted with stress and anxiety due to our absolutely appalling maternity pay.”

Ben Selby, Fire Brigades Union assistant general secretary, said: 

“It cannot be right that a new mother in Cornwall gets £15,000 less than a new mother in Staffordshire. This system is unfair and systematically undervalues women firefighters.

“Every year, women are forced to return to work too early – to a job that is physically and psychologically stressful – because their maternity leave is so bad. Others have experienced serious economic hardship. ]

“There is clear evidence that exposure to toxic fire contaminants is a threat to the health of new mothers and babies.

“The fight for equality in the fire and rescue service is vital. But the service cannot hope to recruit and retain women firefighters if it continues to have such poor and patchy maternity leave provision.

“We urge employers not to miss this opportunity to properly address the problem, and to agree to a UK-wide policy of twelve months on full pay.”