Campaigning to End Pregnancy Discrimination at Work

By Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action

Each year, 54,000 women are unlawfully dismissed or forced out of work during pregnancy, maternity leave or return to work. Three quarters of pregnant women in the workplace can expect to face some form of discrimination or negative treatment. The situation has worsened significantly in the past ten years, with an 80% increase in the number of women forced out of their jobs through discrimination.

These figures should be prompting swift action from the UK Government, which has the powers to make changes to law, policy and practice which could reverse this worrying trend. Two years have passed since findings from a national research project were released by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the then Department of Business Innovation and Skills, and we are still waiting to see the cross-government action needed to drive change.

Maternity Action is a national charity campaigning to protect and improve maternity rights in the workplace, in the benefits system and for vulnerable migrant women. We are leading national campaigning to bring an end to pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. We convene the Alliance for Maternity Rights which brings together parenting groups, unions, advice agencies and health professional groups sharing this common objective. The STUC is a member of the group.

In 2016, we released a 32 point Action Plan covering the interventions necessary to achieve change. These included better protection against unfair selection for redundancy, strengthening health and safety processes, strengthening the rights of women working in the gig economy, improving access to justice and

increasing access to advice and information. The Action Plan has been influential. The UK Parliament Women and Equalities Select Committee inquiry into pregnancy and maternity discrimination in 2016 drew heavily on the Action Plan for its recommendations. The Labour, SNP and Greens Manifestos for the UK general election included key recommendations from the Action Plan.

To date our campaigning has focussed on raising the profile of pregnancy and maternity discrimination with Parliamentarians. We resourced two Westminster Hall debates which included speakers from across the major parties and have held two panel discussions involving SNP, Labour, and Conservative Parliamentarians. By contrast, our forthcoming campaigning will be focusing on specific asks from the Action Plan which we will be pursuing through a series of short campaigns.

Our next campaign, commencing in October 2017, will focus on redundancy. On our advice line, we regularly hear from women who are made redundant in processes which are not genuine redundancies, involve unfair selection for redundancy, or which force women in the late stages of pregnancy to take part in stressful selection processes. We also hear from women who are unfairly selected for redundancy when they apply for flexible working on their return from maternity leave. To combat this, we are calling for the redundancy protections offered to new mothers during maternity leave to be extended from notification of pregnancy through to six months after return to work.

We are keen to work with trade unions in Scotland to challenge unfair and unlawful treatment of pregnant women and new mothers at work. We presented on our work at the Scottish Government Group on Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination and are keen to support new initiatives to address problems in Scottish workplaces. We have been working with the STUC to develop a new information sheet on rights at work for women experiencing depression during pregnancy or post-natally. If you are interested in getting involved with our work, please get in touch.

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