Communication matters - going back to work after maternity leave

21 May 2020

Liz Cocks, ASLEF's Women's Representative Committee member for District 6, on mess room 'banter', poor company communication, and going back to work to keep a roof over your head, food in your children's tummies, and clothes on their backs.










I'm heading back to work after a second child (I didn't manage to drive a train after the first). I've heard, through the grapevine, the so-called mess room banter – 'When was the last time Liz drove a train?', among other things – and, for those who have made those comments, or similar, you might want to look up ASLEF's Mind the Gag campaign.


I thought it might be interesting to share with you the choices we've made as a family – because some of you won't have had to make such choices for your families.


Before my first child I applied for reduced hours, because with two shift workers in the house, on different rosters, it was never going to work with two of us doing full-time hours. I applied as my partner's company was in dispute at the time and he was newer to the grade than I was and, unfortunately, companies are still not applying reduced hours and flexible working fairly to both male and female drivers (please ask for help with applications as WRC reps have lots of experience in dealing with this).


I had very little contact from my company, and that was okay, but when I went back to work I was very poorly with my second pregnancy, despite being on reduced hours. I did my competencies and risk assessment had me 'suspended' but, basically, I was stood down from working. Little back and forth, then maternity hit, and no company contact.


I needed something so emailed the depot manager and got a random text from a new driver manager (a letter would have been nice – no doubt this is in my pigeon hole). They didn't know when I was coming back, despite me having completed the paperwork and rosters correctly. Cue me, with two small children, trying to find emails and look at calendars to sort this out.


I'm now waiting to head back to work and there is a feeling of doubt. Should I be going back? Should I stay with my children? Will I regret the decisions we've made?


The anxiety about going back is enormous and, no doubt, I'll be greeted with the so-called banter – 'Do you still work here?' – and, as I mark my 20 year railway anniversary, I have to say that, when I joined in 2000, I never imagined a mortgage, partner, and two dependant children – so when you go to open your mouth, verbally or virtually, engage your brain first as life has a way of changing your plans.


I'm hoping that, as time passes, I'll be happy that my kids see two parents doing the same job and show them you can actually be anything you set your mind to and your gender is irrelevant if you want something enough.


This article appears in the forthcoming June 2020 issue of the ASLEF Journal.

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