Drastic action is needed to give new and expectant mothers more protection at work after another “shocking” and damning report reveals a huge increase in pregnancy discrimination over the last 10 years.
Research carried out by the former Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed that pregnant women and mothers now face more discrimination at work than they did a decade ago.
One in ten women reported being either dismissed, made compulsorily redundant when others in their workplace were not, or treated so badly they felt they had to leave their job.
In response, MPs have called for more “urgent action” after the latest Women and Equalities Committee report shows the true level of discrimination against women in the workplace.
“The Government’s approach to improving compliance with pregnancy and maternity discrimination law has been confusing. It has stated that it is important to focus on enforcement and yet its main policy focus is awareness-raising and persuasion.
“It has voiced concern about the low numbers of women taking enforcement action against their employer, but has rejected the EHRC’s recommendations to remove unfair barriers to justice and has no plans to ease the burden of enforcement on women,” the Women and Equalities Committee chair, Maria Miller commented.
Top employment lawyer, Danielle Ayres, who specialises in pregnancy and maternity discrimination cases at Gorvins Solicitors believes a stronger system may deter discrimination. “We need a German style system putting into place in the UK, which makes it harder to make women redundant during and after pregnancy,” she said.
Currently in the UK, although it is wholly illegal to dismiss a woman for reasons relating to having children, a company can still choose and find other reasons to make her redundant; a change which Ayres says “has to come.”
In 2015 a further report highlighted that more than 54,000 new and expectant mothers had been forced to leave their jobs as a result of discrimination by their employers.
Ayres regularly holds free employment law clinics for women experiencing issues at work, and over the past six months, she has observed a number of cases where women have returned to work to find their job is no more, or who have not been properly consulted throughout a redundancy process.
Probably more shocking is the number of women who receive notification of redundancy just before their return to work with no warning or explanation.
“I am particularly glad the report addresses the issue of redundancy in pregnancy, which has been something of a ‘black hole’ in legislation surrounding new and expectant mothers,” Ayres added.
Further findings in the report also call for more protection for new and expectant mothers who are casual, agency or zero hours workers.
Although the right to statutory maternity leave and pay only applies to employees, the ERA 1996 does afford protection to a wider class of new and expectant mothers including these contracted workers and self-employed contractors.
At present, these workers do not have access to the same basic rights during and after pregnancy.
Ayres who works closely with Joeli Brierley, owner and founder of pioneering group Pregnant then Screwed, has been campaigning with leading charities, maternity groups and the equality and human rights commission to afford a change to the current issues affecting this group of women.