Despite steady improvements in rights for working parents in recent years, pregnant workers and those returning to work face huge problems in terms of discriminatory attitudes and reduced income and status, which have a continued impact for the rest of their lives.
Research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) shows that around 54,000 pregnant women and new mothers are forced out of their jobs each year and many more struggle on through harassment and negative attitudes.
In addition, one in five new mothers lose out financially when they return to work, and half say having a baby has had a negative impact on opportunity, status or job security. Low-paid women in insecure employment and young mothers are the worst hit.
While there are a whole range of rights designed to prohibit discrimination against pregnant workers, they clearly have not been working in practice. The EHRC research shows that levels of pregnancy and maternity discrimination have escalated following the economic downturn and during the subsequent period of relative economic stability.
The research confirms what unions have long suspected, that rising levels of discrimination have coincided with the introduction of tribunal fees, which have acted as a major barrier to women taking discrimination claims to tribunal.
Although on the whole, the findings of the EHRC research make depressing reading, in one key respect the report contains welcome news for unions, by explicitly acknowledging the benefits of union recognition and the importance of collective bargaining as a means of securing strong frameworks of negotiated rights for women.
Employers who recognise trade unions show greater understanding of rights relating to pregnancy and maternity, while mothers whose employer does not recognise a trade union are more likely to report being forced to leave their job.
The research shows that stable jobs, in a workplace where a union is recognised and well organised, are key to eliminating negative treatment of women linked to pregnancy and maternity, and to promoting a culture in which workers are positively supported in successfully combining work with motherhood.
This guide aims to help union reps support pregnant members and new mothers and adoptive parents returning to work, both individually and on a collective level. It sets out the relevant legislation and how it can be used in practice. And it gives advice on bargaining for a stronger framework of collective rights.
• Chapter 1 sets out the extent of pregnancy and maternity discrimination in UK workplaces, as well as the impact of motherhood on women’s employment, pay and pensions;
• Chapter 2 summarises the law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination;
• Chapter 3 looks at the main problems faced by pregnant workers and returning mothers and how the law has dealt with them;
• Chapter 4 looks at how health, safety and welfare law affects pregnant and breastfeeding workers;
• Chapter 5 sets out the rights to time off for antenatal appointments;
• Chapter 6 summarises the current rights to leave and pay;
• Chapter 7 looks at union action in the workplace to tackle discrimination and improve collective rights;
• Chapter 8 sets out some wider campaigning issues.