(Guest entry by Maternity Action)

Pregnancy discrimination is fast becoming a hot topic. With the Government pledge for £1million to research this issue, debates in the House of Commons about the £1200 discrimination tribunal and with Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats wading into the discussion, it appears this issue will sit firmly on the election agenda.

Whilst it is great news the issue is gaining attention, the results of the research will not be released until late 2014 at the earliest. If the government is serious about the ending pregnancy discrimination, then there are urgent actions they can take.

Maternity Action’s new report ‘Overdue: a plan of action to tackle pregnancy discrimination now’ examines why justice for women who have experienced pregnancy discrimination has become even more inaccessible.feature_policy

In 2005, three years before the global financial crisis hit, a landmark study by the Equal Opportunities Commission found that each year 30,000 women were forced out of their job.  Eight years on, all the available evidence suggests that figure is now more like 60,000.

Yet since 2010, the Government has introduced a number of measures which has made it even harder for women to tackle such discrimination.  Access to already overstretched sources of free employment advice, such as law centres and Citizens Advice Bureau, have been shrunk by the abolition of almost all legal aid.

The ‘questionnaire procedure’ in employment tribunal discrimination claims – which helped reveal crucial information held by the employer which the employee may not know – is set to be abolished in April 2014.  And, perhaps most damagingly of all, since July 2013 those women taking a claim of pregnancy discrimination to tribunal must pay up to £1,200 in upfront tribunal fees.

Bringing a tribunal claim is a daunting prospect at the best of times but for pregnant women it is a time when they must protect their own and their baby’s health, as well as their income.

The difficulties of combining paid employment with the demands of pregnancy or parental commitments are not new.  But all the evidence suggests that they have become considerably harder since the financial crisis. With this in mind, Maternity Action calls on the Government to:

  • Abolish (or at least reduce to a nominal level) the upfront fees for pregnancy discrimination and other employment tribunal claims
  • Abandon the planned abolition of the ‘questionnaire procedure’ in discrimination claims.
  • Establish a process for publicly ‘naming and shaming’ employers found by a tribunal to have flouted the law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
  • Take urgent and robust action to improve the rate of compliance with employment tribunal awards.
  • Match its funding of new EHRC research with funding for the specialist information and advice services that pregnant women and new mothers need to help protect their rights at work.
  • Launch a public information campaign aimed at improving both workers’ and employers’ awareness and understanding of the law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination.
  • Send out a clear and strong message to employers that pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful, and that a harsh economic environment is no excuse to flout the law.

Alongside this new report, Maternity Action and the Valuing Maternity Campaign Partners are launching the ‘When I Had My Baby’ campaign.  This campaign aims to shed light on real women’s stories and show the human impact behind the statistics. If you or someone you know has been treated badly at work because you are pregnant or taking maternity or paternity leave then we want to hear about it.

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Tell your story! Tell us anonymously by emailing us or share it on our Facebook Wall or on Twitter using the hashtag #WhenIHadMyBaby
  2. Be creative! Include a photo with your story from your life as a working mum or dad and bring your story to life on our PhotoStory Wall
  3. Spread the word! Share yours and other people’s stories through Twitter and Facebook
  4. Keep in touch! Sign up to the Valuing Maternity Campaign News