New TUC poll reveals 1 in 4 pregnant women have been treated unfairly at work during the coronavirus outbreak
Low-paid pregnant women are most likely to have lost pay or work since the crisis began
Health of pregnant women at risk as 2 in 5 haven’t had a workplace safety assessment
A quarter of pregnant women have faced discrimination at work during the coronavirus outbreak, according to a new TUC survey published today (Wednesday).
A new poll of more than 3,400 women who have been pregnant or on maternity leave during the Covid-19 pandemic found that one in four (25%) had experienced unfair treatment at work, including being singled out for redundancy or furlough.
Of those surveyed, low-paid pregnant women (earning less than £23,000 a year) were much more likely (28%) than women on higher salaries (17%) to have been forced to lose pay and stop work.
Pregnant women told the TUC they were required to take sick leave when they were not sick, to take unpaid leave, to start their maternity leave early or to leave the workplace, because their employer did not act to make their workplace safe for them.
All of these actions are illegal, says the TUC. Pregnant women have the right to be suspended on full pay if workplace risks to their health cannot be removed or reduced, or suitable alternative work is not available.
Health and safety at work
The TUC poll also exposed a range of health and safety concerns for women who have been pregnant during the coronavirus outbreak:
One in four (25%) of those surveyed told the TUC they felt unsafe at work
Two in five (42%) responding to the poll said they had not had a workplace health and safety risk assessment
Of those who had a risk assessment, almost half (46%) said their employer did not take the necessary action to reduce the risks identified – which is against the law – and a quarter (25%) said the risk assessment did not include the additional risks posed by Covid-19
Government must act now
The TUC is calling on the government to take action now and:
Change the law to protect new and expectant mums’ health and safety: Employers are already required to undertake a Covid-19 risk assessment, which should take account of additional risks to anyone who is pregnant or a new mum. The government should now change the law to require employers to undertake individual written risk assessments when they are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months or is breastfeeding. Assessment of risk should involve discussions with the woman involved, and if any risk is identified then it must be removed
Enforce the law: The government should make it clear to employers that if the risks facing a pregnant worker cannot be removed, and there is no alternative work available, pregnant women have the right to be suspended from work on full pay. The Health and Safety Executive should enforce the law through spot checks and should encourage pregnant women to raise concerns with them (anonymously if necessary). Employers who break the law should be subject to the full range of penalties including fines
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “Work should be safe for pregnant women and new mums. But our research has uncovered shocking levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination during the coronavirus outbreak.
“Employers are routinely flouting health and safety law. This puts women’s lives – and the health of their unborn babies – at risk.
“Ministers must require every employer to do an individual risk assessment for every pregnant woman and new mum. If it’s not safe for women to keep working, employers must suspend them on full pay. Employers must stop illegally selecting pregnant women and new mums for redundancy. And bosses who break the law should be fined.”
Sarah (not her real name), who is expecting her baby soon, told the TUC: “I felt the environment was unsafe for my unborn child. I initially approached my line manager who told me “a senior manager” had completed a risk assessment for me and I was fine to continue working. This senior manager knew nothing about my medical history or the history of my pregnancy – including it already being high risk.
“I involved my obstetrician and occupational health to have a full and proper risk assessment completed, tailored to myself (as should be for all pregnant workers) and eventually after around 10 days of fighting I was allowed to remain off work.”
Case studies from the survey:
Leila (not her real name) is currently on maternity leave. She told the TUC: “I worked in a residential home. Some residents were physically violent on a regular basis, but I was not assigned the residents where I would be less at risk. I worked for as long as I could but definitely risked mine and my baby’s health and safety and left at 32 weeks. I had reduced my hours which meant a reduced salary. The attitude towards pregnant women in the health and social care sector is awful, you’re seen as an inconvenience and will be pushed to leave by being made to perform as you would have pre-pregnancy. You are seen as lazy if you ask for help with moving and handling heavy loads (residents in floor hoists). You will be made to feel an annoyance if you ask to go to the toilet more often than usual. It’s frightening how ingrained this attitude is.”
Anya (not her real name) is in the second trimester of her pregnancy. She said: “I was being told that my public-facing role would be enforced and I could not refuse to do the job. The ward had Covid-19 patients and six members of staff had taken unwell with the virus. I’ve had several consecutive miscarriages before this pregnancy.”
Charlotte (not her real name) is in her third trimester. She told the TUC: “My boss insisted that I come into the office after the government had announced that pregnant women were on the vulnerable list. I suggested working from home (which is completely possible) but he wouldn’t allow it. I had to take unpaid leave because I was too scared to go into the office.”
Zara (not her real name) is in the third trimester of her pregnancy. She said: “There was no other option. In my current job, other people were being furloughed but I couldn’t due to missing the deadline. My new job that I started in March deemed it safe for me to work but I did not agree, so I had to take unpaid leave or continue working but I did not want to take that risk.”
Emma (not her real name) is in her third trimester. She told the TUC: “I asked for work from home (which had been an option previously). I was told it was my choice to not come into the workplace as the government guidance was not law and therefore was told to take sick leave or holiday or come in as normal. Social distancing was not possible in the workplace.”
- The report is available at: www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/2020-06/PregMatCovid-19.pdf
- During the week commencing 1 June 2020, the TUC surveyed a self-selected sample of 3,407 pregnant women, mums on maternity leave or women that have recently returned to work from maternity leave to understand the key issues they face at work and the impact this health and economic crisis is having on their incomes, jobs and livelihoods. Almost one third (30%) of respondents earned below median wage, 55% earned median wage and 13% earned over £50,000. The survey was run on the www.pregnantthenscrewed.com website.
- The Trades Union Congress (TUC) exists to make the working world a better place for everyone. We bring together more than 5.5 million working people who make up our 48 member unions. We support unions to grow and thrive, and we stand up for everyone who works for a living.
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