The Royal College of Midwives (RCM) and Solidarity union have welcomed the government’s announcement on pregnancy discrimination, but both said there is more to do to protect new mothers returning to work.
Responding to the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s announcement that pregnant women and new parents will get enhanced redundancy protections RCM employment relations advisor Alice Sorby said:
“Being pregnant and then caring for a new baby can be challenging enough without the spectre of discrimination at work and job loss. So this will be welcome and long overdue news for women. For too long too many have faced discrimination when returning to work following maternity leave without adequate legal protection.
“The RCM responded to this consultation and we are pleased that they listened to many of our concerns. We hope that the promised taskforce looking at how to improve the working lives of parents includes issues such as flexible working. We believe that developing workplace policies in partnership with trade unions that support a positive work-life balance and promote flexible working are key to keeping parents and those with caring responsibilities in work.
“We are disappointed that the announcement does not include a prohibition on redundancy in pregnancy and for six months afterwards. This was recommended by the Women and Equalities Select Committee report on pregnancy discrimination in 2016.
“This announcement will also be good news for many midwives and maternity support workers, the vast majority of whom are women working for the NHS. We expect the NHS to be an exemplary employer and to go beyond the statutory minimum. This includes better policies on issues such as facilities for breastfeeding or expressing milk and flexible working arrangements.
“This is a welcome and positive step in the right direction bringing greater protection in the workplace for those returning to work following parental leave. This is the continuation of a process for better rights for pregnant women and families and we need to see these improve even more."
Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, commented: "The backdrop to this announcement shows the need for action. In 2017/18, the number of pregnancy-related Employment Tribunal claims reached 1,357 – an increase of 56 percent on 2016/17. This rate of growth was over twice as fast as the overall increase in the number of tribunal claims. Additionally, according to research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one in 20 women are made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave. It found one in 10 were treated worse by their employer after returning to work having had a baby, while one in five experienced harassment or negative comments from colleagues or managers.
"For us this is not just a matter of individual rights, important though that is. Mothers rightly occupy a special place in our society. They are the guardians of our future nation. If we fail them we all lose.
"I'm currently involved in challenging a decision not to promote one of our pregnant members by a company which is an internationally known brand. We believe that this was pregnancy discrimination. Many women who suffer this discrimination don't take further action or go to a tribunal. They don't have a union backing them up and often feel isolated. It's our job as a union to reach out to workers and say 'you don't have to do this on your own, the union will back you'. Our founding message remains our rallying call: 'together we are strong'."
This article was first published in British Worker the weekly e-newsletter of Solidarity.