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From the time of the birth of my first child I required union support to get my maternity leave.
I had to travel to Dublin to get maternity leave rights and put them in place before informing
the boss. (I worked on a building site)
I was told to drop my work and pick up a broom when the boss got the call from the Dublin
office about the impending birth of my son. My work plan (which I had set up) involved the
same duties but they had to be adapted : this meant I could not use vibrating equipment,
angle-grinders, water-saws etcetera.
Whilst Pregnant I cut and dressed a huge stone six-panelled window by hand,using
techniques that my helper taught me, which were basically medieval and I never had
so much fun.
My workshop was adapted at very low cost to ensure I did not go out in the rain, and basically
despite an undercurrent of aggression from the management everything proceeded fine, the
Dublin-end of the were brilliant and supportive, at this time.
I took a month early maternity leave and returned to work a week early, as I had a fulltime nanny
installed and was bored at home.
This meant I worked until my seventh month and did not have much sick-time (morning sickness being
over mostly cos I got up at 6am and did not suffer during the day). Bad storms meant that I required a
jeep to use the loo frequently, we worked on a castle-site and the lakes filled up and drowned the road,
so the usual on-site toilets were mostly inaccessible, apart from chuckling about the ‘toilet-express’ and
such things the guys were cool, except one who kept asking if I was going to ‘have a boy or a child’ (???)
On return to work , everyone was great, I returned to almost normal duties , though I was still lactating.
Then two things happened, a guy I had trained up, who’d been brought into to assist me was given
my duties. And I was shoved against a wall and molested. I made a complaint and got fired
(two weeks notice). Getting a solictior was unusual to say the least, but I eventually did and
the physical harassment ended up in the Labour court where I was vindicated and offered a deal.
The Labour Court looked at my difficulties acessing maternity leave, my replacement by a junior
and unqualifed person post-leave etcetera.
The LC deal was basically that I would get back my entitlements, which included my papers
(apprenticeship), my wage (I was time-serving, so the wage was graded on my abilites).
My firing coincided with my qualification to a higher rate, so essentially the unqualified
trainee was offered my job , although I had trained him . I got back my entitlement as
a trained craftsperson (Grade 1) and the aid that any craftsperson required (General
Operatives and labourers).
I took the deal and started a new job , nearer to home and began my work. As it happened,
I did not have my allotted help and was left alone in a bloody windy Cathedral workshop set-up,
miles from the HQ, the G.O (General operative) and the guy I worked with (who was the one who
wanted to know about the ‘boy or child’ ) !!!! Mostly we ignored each other and the labourer
resented my presence. Huge stones were brought in on trucks every week and I cut them,
I could not move them without the crane and I had a serious accident, which resulted in
the loss of the use of my right-arm. I went through months of physio, steroidal treatments,
X-rays, debilitation and pain, I also displaced three vertebrae. I could not look after my son,
though my friends were incredibly good and minded him in the local creche from 10-6 everyday,
whilst I rested or went to physio/ hospital/GP. I was on disability for a long period. To be absolutely
clear about his, I could not hold my baby, push his pram, or stop him if he had night-terrors
etcetera. I had to move home to Dublin and start over from scratch.
It took eight years to get into court, through that my union and my legal team stood by me and
charged nothing . It ended up with me on the stand for what felt like *forever* but maybe took an
hour and a settlement out of court. I am mostly ok now , but would say to employers :
its not funny to be brutalised, its not funny to replace someone who had rights and entitlements
and its not funny to put someone into a situation of danger because you cannot handle women
in non-traditional industries!
The experience ruined my health and it has taken years to recover , I still have awful problems
trying to explain what happened at interviews , and I reckon that the CV gap looks awful too.
Simple remedies such as adhering to the law, turning up for settlement meetings and accepting
the work history and bona fides of your employee aid problematic situations for everyone. Also
meeting someone who has been assaulted with their P45 is a total no-no.
I’m not sure which example to pick first. They meld into a uniform blur of anger and disempowerment in my mind. I grew up and still live in an area where sexual harassment is seen as at best a minor irritation and at worst not even an issue, something I really should shut up and stop making a fuss about.
At school, aged 12, a certain underclass of boys thought it was hilariously funny to grab girls’ breasts and fondle them. This was accepted as harmless messing around and never punished. Yet if I so much as used a swear word when ordering a boy to stop his harassment, I got into trouble. If I slapped a boy for grabbing my breasts, I got into trouble. The one sidedness of that treatment bothers me to this day. As a vulnerable 12 year old kid, I was expected to tolerate this behaviour, but god forbid I did anything back, however minor. The other thing that bothers me is how inconsequential people feel it is. If I mention it a common reaction is ‘cry me a river’. This dehumanizing behaviour affected me for quite a while. I never felt okay about becoming a woman and the behaviour exacerbated my feeling that my body had gone from being mine, my machine for running and jumping and dancing, to being a mere sex object.
Another one is the chronic harassment that goes on at social events. Go to a music event in the pubs and every other time you move someone is pinching your backside or otherwise touching you in ways they shouldn’t. Again this behaviour is seen as totally okay, just a harmless annoyance.
I feel the need to list two other ones, both important because of how others reacted…I was seen as being really unreasonable because I retaliated. One was when I was walking along the street minding my own business, and the next thing I heard : ‘WHOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!’ at about 120 decibels. Some construction workers then went on to yell sexual appraisals at me that I don’t really need to describe. I was very shocked and startled and I reacted by striking an aggressive stance, locking eye contact and shouting ‘You fucking sick monster!’ I then told my mother about the incident and she couldn’t understand why I was so angry. I was angry because I was shocked and felt violated. In any other context, roaring at someone in the street and giving them a severe shock is called harassment or antisocial behaviour. But for some reason, when it’s in the context of male sexual behaviour towards a female, it’s totally okay. It makes me sick.
Another one was when a drunk man starting touching me in the back of a taxi. I pulled my small lock knife, waved it in his face and yelled ‘You touch me again and I’ll disembowel you, motherfucker!’ Again, people thought I was being grossly unreasonable.
I’ll never understand why a smaller, weaker female is expected not only to tolerate this behaviour from larger, stronger, threatening males, but to see it as harmless and acceptable, even funny.
I was livid last week.
I have been living in Ireland for a year and a half now, having moved over in search of adventure (and a job) with my other half. He comes from an apparently progressive European country and was sent over by a company there into a very good position in Dublin. He’s just been back to their HQ to tell them that, much though we’ve had a ball over in Ireland, I can’t get a well-paid job and so we need to move on again. I am no slouch and I’ve spent my time in Ireland working without pay (because I have the opportunity to do so) in a job I’ve always wanted to have but never could switch careers in to.
Anyway, his boss’ reponse to our situation was to ask that, seeing as I am 30 now, why am I not having babies and starting a family while we are here in Ireland and I am not earning? This guy comes from a country that puts others to shame in terms of maternity and paternity leave and rights and in many ways is a shining example in policy terms. But get it down to the individual’s perspective and still it seems, I am just a baby-incubator and shouldn’t really bother with engaging economically in society unless it is via my spouse.
Not in the Price Waterhouse Coopers top 10? Pissed off? Discombobulated?
When they are not “Building Relationships and creating value” the PWC lads are giving us a timely reminder that all is rotten in the state of sexual relations. For that, at least, we thank them.
The Irish Feminist Network is hoping that you will share your stories of sexism and discrimination in the workplace and wherever else life has taken you. By sharing stories across the country we hope to show that you are not alone. We are also hoping that the stories will provide the backbone of a future action. We ask that you post your stories in the comments section below, after which we will upload them onto the blog as posts in their own right. Alternatively, send your stories to our dedicated email firstname.lastname@example.org
On the Sky news website justicepig had this to say about the PWC debacle: “Pathetic, it’s sad that in these hard times people have nothing more important to winge about. PC gone mad, what has happened to humour?”
We’ll tell you what happened to humour, justicepig, when you tell us why 85% of senior management in EU companies are men, 86% of our TDs are men and why only 3% of the chief execs of companies in the Fortune Top 500 are women.
And, while we’re at it, why do we earn only 86 cent for every Euro you pop in your pocket? Bleedin’ hilarious.
Let’s get our stories out there. Sexism – it’s not funny, it’s calculated. Joke’s over boys. It’s payback time.