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Pregnant and precarious: new and expectant mums’ experiences of work during Covid-19

Report type
Research and reports
Issue date
Summary of key recommendations

Government must act now to ensure that women do not continue to face disproportionate impacts from the coronavirus crisis and to prevent decades of incremental progress on gender equality being lost.

The TUC recommends that the government acts to:

  • 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 there is any risk 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.
  • Strengthen existing protections for pregnant women and new mums at risk of unfair treatment and redundancy: Extend pregnancy and maternity redundancy protections to six months after a new mum has returned to work, and ensure all workers have a day-one right to this protection, including pregnant women on zero-hours contracts.
  • Prevent a large-scale collapse of the childcare sector: Give an urgent cash injection to the childcare sector to ensure existing levels of provision can be maintained so that mums can return to work. Additional funding should be provided and targeted at children from low-income households to ensure they do not lose out.
  • Protect women’s incomes by extending the job retention scheme for parents who cannot work because of caring responsibilities: A more limited form of the job retention scheme should remain in place beyond October to support new mums and parents who are unable to return to work because of childcare responsibilities and enable them to remain on it until childcare settings are fully reopened. Mums who are not currently furloughed, but who are set to return to work after 10 June and are unable to find appropriate childcare, should still be eligible for the scheme.
  • Ensure equal rights and security for all pregnant women and new mums: The government must act immediately to ban zero-hours contracts and immediately review pregnancy and maternity-related rights to ensure all women, regardless of their employment status, have equal protection and rights at work.

Download full report (pdf)

Executive summary

New and expectant mums have been acutely affected by the health and economic impacts of the coronavirus crisis, and the actions that government and employers have taken to respond to it. As a result, in June 2020, the TUC surveyed over 3,400 pregnant women and mums on maternity leave to find out about their experiences of work during the period. <1 .

Since the Covid-19 pandemic began

  • One in four pregnant women and new mums in our survey have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination at work including being singled out for redundancy or furlough.
  • Pregnant women’s health and safety rights 2 . are being routinely disregarded, leaving women feeling unsafe at work or without pay when they are unable to attend their workplaces.
  • Low-paid pregnant women responding to our survey are almost twice as likely as women on median to high incomes to have lost pay and or been forced to stop work (either by being required to take sick leave when they were not sick or to take unpaid leave, start their maternity leave early or leave the workplace altogether) because of unaddressed health and safety concerns. 3 .
  • 71 per cent of new mums in our survey planning to return to work in the next three months are currently unable to find childcare to enable them to do so.

There are five immediate actions the TUC recommends the government take to protect women’s health, jobs and livelihoods. These include changes to health and safety practices, preventing discriminatory redundancies, an urgent emergency childcare bailout, an extension of the job retention scheme for parents (including mums returning from maternity leave) who cannot find childcare and an increase in protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers.

These recommendations must be implemented alongside coordinated action with trade unions and civil society organisations that drive a sustained cultural shift, ultimately improving the experiences of pregnant employees and new mums, and employers alike. We have described these in detail in the report.

  • 1 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 of respondents earnt below median wage, 55 per cent earned median wage and 13 per cent earned over £50,000.
  • 2 Employers are legally required to reduce or remove risks to a pregnant woman’s health. If this cannot be done, she has a right to be offered suitable alternative work, on the same rate of pay, or to have her working conditions adjusted. If none of these measures are possible, she should be suspended on full pay, based on her usual earnings, until the risk is gone.
  • 3 Low-paid women told us they had been forced to take on sick leave, unpaid leave, start their maternity leave early or leave their job altogether after health and safety concerns were not addressed by their employer. 28.3 per cent of low-paid pregnant women compared to 16.8 per cent of median to high earners.

For mums and mums-to-be, pregnancy and new motherhood can be an exciting time. It can also be a time full of new challenges and experiences and feelings of anxiety can be a natural part of this process.

Anxiety about the health and economic impacts of the Covid-19 crisis have inevitably added to the worries new mums face. Experts have warned Covid-19 has had a negative impact on maternal mental health beyond that seen in the general population, where reported rates of anxiety have more than doubled.  4 .

Work should be a safe place where mums are supported during pregnancy and in the early stages of motherhood. Employers that follow good practice increase the likelihood of maintaining a skilled and diverse workforce, which positively impacts profitability.  5 . If employers and employees work together to put plans in place for pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work, it can lead to higher levels of employee satisfaction and increased staff retention.  6 .

However, our new research has identified three area of huge concern for new and expectant mums at work, to be discussed in the following chapters:

  • shocking levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination
  • employers flouting health and safety law and putting women’s lives at risk
  • a dramatic fall in availability of childcare for mums returning from maternity leave
  • a lack of adequate and equal protection for mums on zero-hours contracts.

As the economic downturn deepens and employers try to do more with less, the TUC are deeply concerned that our new research shows discrimination and employers’ negative attitudes towards pregnant women and new mums is intensifying.

Without immediate action from the government, women could be forced out of their jobs, decades of incremental improvements in gender equality at work will be reversed, working families will lose vital income and the gender pay gap will widen.

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