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Dinosaur work cultures are forcing thousands of new mums out of work

Published date
The discrimination still faced by women who simply want to start a family is unacceptable
  • A 2016 report found around 390,000 new mothers experience some form of pregnancy discrimination at work every year.
  • Three years on the government is extending redundancy protection for women and new parents for an extra six months after they’ve returned to work.
  • The TUC welcomes this move, but we also want action to tackle the dinosaur workplace cultures that lead to discrimination in the first place.

Unacceptable discrimination

Today we’ve published our response to the government’s consultation on extending redundancy protection for women and new parents

We welcome the proposal to extend redundancy protection for pregnant women and new parents for an extra six months after they’ve returned to work. 

This important change will help stop bad bosses from sidestepping their legal obligations by waiting until women return to work before making them redundant. 

But this consultation goes nowhere near far enough. 

The government says it’s taking an evidence-based approach to this issue.

If that’s true, then why has it ignored its own evidence showing that trade union access to workplaces is one of the best ways to stop pregnancy and maternity discrimination?

An extra six months protection for new parents isn’t going to solve the underlying problem of dinosaur workplace cultures and bosses bending the law. 

After over 30 years since laws were first introduced to protect pregnant women and new mums, the discrimination still faced by women who simply want to start a family is unacceptable.

The government needs to do much more to tackle it.

A growing problem

The consultation was finally launched more than two years after the Women and Equalities Select Committee called on the government to take urgent action to tackle pregnancy discrimination.

This followed a shocking report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy in 2016. 

The biggest piece of research ever carried out on this topic, it revealed that over three quarters of women had experienced some form of pregnancy discrimination at work.

That’s around 390,000 mothers every year – around 54,000 of whom said they were forced to leave their job because of how they were treated during their pregnancy, maternity leave or after they returned to work.

And over half of the women surveyed said they’d experienced discrimination as a direct result of agreeing a flexible working plan

The EHRC/BEIS research revealed the extent of a problem that’s only getting worse.

Unions make a difference

The EHRC/BEIS research was also clear that women’s experiences were better when there was a recognised union in their workplace. 

This was especially important when it comes to redundancy. Employers with no recognised trade union were more likely to have made both pregnant women and new mothers redundant than those where a union was in place to protect women’s rights. 

Pregnant women and new mothers who were not in a trade union were also more likely to be targeted by their employers for redundancy. .

We hoped the government would take this evidence on board by promoting union recognition and membership alongside changes to the law on redundancy protection.

Unfortunately, the government has ignored its own evidence and taken no steps to give unions more access to workplacesso we can tell pregnant women about their rights and help to enforce them.

No more sticking plaster solutions

The consultation was a missed opportunity to bring about real change for new mothers at work.

Because an extra six month’s protection from redundancy won’t get to the root of the problem.

That’s why we want action on the following areas:

  • Trade union access to workplaces

We need new legislation to give unions the right to access workplaces during working hours to tell people about the benefits of union membership.

  • Rights for all

Pregnant women and working parents (including those on zero-hours contracts, agency workers and casual workers) should have access to the same family friendly rights as employees from day one in the job.

  • Flexible working

We want all staff to have the right to flexible working from day one, unless the employer can prove why there’s a business reason why not.

  • Information and awareness

The government should run a campaign to give pregnant women and new parents more information about their rights at work and reintroduce the printed booklet on employment rights that every pregnant woman used to get at their first antenatal appointment. 

  • Increased transparency 

Employers should be required to publish figures on the proportion of pregnant women and new mothers still in post one year after returning from maternity leave.

  • Access to justice

New mothers need help to break down the barriers that are stopping them from fighting discrimination, including an extension of the three-month time limit for Employment Tribunal claims relating to discrimination, harassment and victimisation to six months. The system also needs better resources after years of austerity cuts.

This can't go on

Our full consultation response goes into much greater detail about these demands and what we think still needs to change. 

Because this can’t go on. A good society should support women who want to start a family, not allow bad bosses punish them for exercising their rights.

So if the government is really serious about ending pregnancy and maternity discrimination, it needs to do much more to protect our working mums.