Mom was shocked when she lost her job after maternity leave - and angry when asked to cough up $8,000


September 27, 2007

You would think an agency that deals with compassionate care benefits would have some compassion.

But then this is the federal government.

And so we have Daisy Mule abruptly terminated from her contract position with Service Canada for little more, it seems, than the sin of having a baby.

Mule, 40, worked at the Bridgeland Ave. office processing unemployment insurance benefits in the compassionate care unit for people who must take time off work to look after ill family members.

Her contract has been renewed several times over the last 31/2 years and she took a one-year maternity leave with her second daughter and returned to work without any problems.

So when Mule went on maternity leave again in April after giving birth to her third daughter, she never expected her contract wouldn't be renewed at the end of August. She says her manager assured her that her job would most likely be waiting for her when she got back.


It was with that assurance that she applied for and received the Employment Insurance supplement which topped-up her maternity benefits. Under the top-up program, the employee has to sign a contract guaranteeing that she will return to work or the money has to be repaid.

On Aug. 14, the Woodbridge mother of three was suddenly informed that her contract would not be renewed after all. And one more thing.

Not only is she out of a job -- but she now owes them $8,000. As she is no longer returning to work for the government, she must pay back the money she has collected since April in supplementary maternity benefits.

"I'm totally shocked," Mule said at a press conference yesterday called by her Canada Employment and Immigration Union outside the North York office where she used to work. "The message I get is that it's not very smart to have a baby."

What is truly amazing is that Service Canada pulled the same stunt last year on another contract worker who had just gone on maternity leave. Just before Christmas, Asheena Rycman was terminated without warning despite rave reviews for her work during almost three years in their Scarborough office.

After Rycman and her union went public with her story last December, the bad publicity suddenly had the government rethinking their stance. It didn't look good that the very department that administers maternity benefits appeared to be discriminating against new mothers.

"They miraculously found an empty job and gave her a contract," says Alan Lennon, the union's regional representative. "But I guess they're slow learners."

After her colleague's experience, Mule never imagined Service Canada would treat another new mother the same way. "Yet here we are," she says, cradling 6-month-old daughter, Angelica.

And now Mule is left hoping for another miracle.

If she had worked three uninterrupted years for the federal government -- the year she took off on maternity leave for her second daughter does not count -- she would be considered full time by now and her job would have been safe by law.

But as a government contract worker, they have no legal obligation to extend her contract. According to spokesman Rebecca McTaggart, Service Canada's peak summer period has come to an end and they no longer need the services of 81 contract workers in Ontario. Mule just happens to be one of those 81 whose contracts were not extended.


The union argues otherwise. "Daisy is being penalized for having exercised her legitimate and legal right to take maternity leave," said national v-p Paul Soiero.

McTaggart insists that Mule's local manager "in no way" would have assured her that there would be a job for her when she returned from maternity leave.

Yet the mother would have hardly signed on for top-up benefits if she hadn't felt confident that she was going back to her civil service job.

Instead, she is now unemployed, $8,000 in debt and terrified of how she will come up with the money.

"It's a huge burden," she says as her two older daughters race around the TV cameras. "We have lots of household expenses like any average family. When you have a second income coming in, you budget based on that and you spend it assuming all is going well."

What you don't assume, in the 21st century, is that your job -- especially your government job -- is at risk for daring to bring a child into the world.