The government must develop a detailed, ambitious plan to tackle maternity discrimination or risk a further rise in pregnant women and mothers being forced out of work, according to MPs.
The Women and Equalities Committee (WEC) yesterday published its submission to the government’s consultation on pregnancy and maternity discrimination protections.
MPs called on the government to improve health and safety practices, prevent discriminatory redundancies and increase protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers to better protect pregnant women and new mothers at work.
- Employers ‘continuing to treat women who have children as a burden’
- Fifth of HR professionals admit motherhood affects promotion prospects
- Number of parents taking shared parental leave ‘remarkably low’ for third year
The committee published a major report in August 2016 on the issue, calling on the government to give women greater protection after a “shocking” increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade. The report revealed 54,000 women faced “significant discrimination” and poor treatment at work each year.
MPs said there were few signs of increased rights for working mothers, despite the government having three years to “demonstrate the urgent action, clarity and leadership” the committee requested.
Maria Miller (pictured), chair of the WEC, called on the government to further crack down on maternity and pregnancy discrimination and introduce mandatory reporting of maternity retention rates.
“At present, the burden of enforcement rests too heavily with the individual experiencing discrimination, so there must be a new mechanism to increase compliance by employers if women’s lives are to be improved,” Miller said.
She expressed disappointment the government had failed to take action regarding the “prohibitively short” three-month time limit for bringing an employment tribunal claim, which experts have criticised for being detrimental in cases of pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
The committee also welcomed and agreed with proposals to provide an additional six months of protection against redundancy for new mothers on their return to work, but said the consultation failed to address the issue of enforcement of existing and new rights.
Claire McCartney, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, supported the government’s consultation into extending redundancy protection for new parents.
"In our response to the consultation, we highlighted that our members wanted better guidance from government around communicating with mothers on maternity leave,” McCartney said. “They also wanted more guidance on how to make the most of keeping-in-touch days and the best way to support mothers returning to work."
The Department for Business and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) conducted research in 2015 which found 11 per cent of women reported being dismissed, made compulsorily redundant when others were not, or being treated so badly they felt they had to leave their job when they became mothers.
The WEC pointed out current redundancy protection ended on a woman’s return to work, meaning a new mother was at risk from her first day back in the workplace.
But Joeli Brearley, founder of advocacy group Pregnant Then Screwed, did not support the extension of redundancy protection for those on maternity leave, as she fered “pushing the problem back onto businesses” could make discrimination worse.
“There has been research showing that you are more likely to be made redundant when such extended protections are in place, and there is no point in extending protections when pregnant women and mothers are finding access to justice almost impossible,” Brearley said.
She called instead for a broader change in workplace culture, and reforms to paternity leave legislation. Brearley said that by enhancing paternity pay to the level of maternity pay, fathers would be able to take extended time off and women would be helped to transition back into work.