One in every twenty mothers are made redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave or return to work. Some of these redundancies are discriminatory, many are unfair. Maternity Action, the maternity rights charity, has released a new report calling for a radical rethink of the legal protections for pregnant women and new mothers at work.
Our report examined the experiences of the women who call our advice line, seeking help with problems at work. We found that many redundancies are not genuine, merely labelled 'redundancy' in an attempt to avoid discrimination claims.
We found that pregnant women were forced to take part in stressful selection processes in late pregnancy and that women on return to work were facing shock redundancies. Even women on maternity leave, who have additional protections, were losing their jobs.
While women have the right to take legal action if they experience discrimination, very few women do so. Pregnancy and new motherhood place significant demands on women's physical and mental health, their time and finances.
We are calling for the UK to adopt the German model of redundancy protection. Under this approach, women must not be made redundant from notification of pregnancy through to six months after return from work, with some limited exceptions. This follows the recommendations of the Women and Equalities Select Committee.
This radical approach to legal protections for women would create a simple rule which is easy for women and employers to understand. It would remove the complexities of the current law in which different rules apply during pregnancy, maternity leave and return. Most importantly, it will remove the obligation on women to go through the demanding and expensive process of proving that their employers have breached discrimination laws.
We are calling for this dramatic change in approach because the current laws are not working. Maternity discrimination is extraordinarily widespread with three-quarters of all new mothers in the workplace experiencing some form of discrimination. One in every nine of these women lose this job as a result, adding to 54,000 women each year. Unfair redundancies are just one of the many mechanisms by which new mothers lose their jobs.
In January of this year, the Government committed to review redundancy protections. This review has not happened and there are no timeframes for it to take place. It is urgently needed and we are campaigning to ensure that it does not fall off the Government's agenda.
The last decade has seen an 80% increase in the number of women losing their jobs each year due to maternity discrimination. That is a swift and disturbing deterioration. Despite grand statements in the press about taking a zero tolerance approach to maternity discrimination, Government action has fallen well short of an effective response.
Right now, women have the right to challenge discrimination in redundancy and we would encourage women to assert their rights. Our online information explains the different rules which apply during pregnancy, maternity leave and the months after return to work and how to raise this with your employer.
We want legal action to be a rare experience for new mothers, not because it is so difficult to run a case but because women's rights have been respected. We want women to have confidence that they can have a baby and keep their job, and to enjoy their experience of new motherhood. We don't want women to be forced to spend their baby's first months negotiating a complex, time consuming and expensive legal process. To achieve this, we need Government to act to protect maternity rights.
You can also read Maternity Action's blog here.