Laws on maternity discrimination and enforcement of breaches need toughening up, says Lewisham West and Penge MP Ellie Reeves
“To start with, it should be made harder for women to be made redundant after their maternity leave” she told the House of Commons during a debate on International Women’s Day.
“Regulation 10 of the Maternity and Parental Leave etc. Regulations 1999 gives women some protection against being made redundant while pregnant or on maternity leave, but the protected period ends when the woman returns to work.
“That does not make sense, given that very often it is exactly when a new mum comes back to work that they begin to feel pushed out.
“To strengthen our discrimination laws, the period of protection against redundancy should be extended to 12 months after a women returns to work following her maternity leave.
“We also need stricter sanctions against employers who breach discrimination laws or fail to publish details of their gender pay gap.
“I welcome the Labour policy launched by Dawn Butler. “It would help to close the gender pay gap by ensuring that all private and public employers with more than 250 staff had to audit their gender pay gaps—and, furthermore, prove that they were taking action to close the gap—or face strict penalties.
“If employers risk losing money, they are more likely to comply with their legal obligations.
“The time limit for bringing a claim for maternity discrimination in the employment tribunal is three months from the act complained of. “Both the women and equalities committee and the Equality and Human Rights Commission have said that this is not long enough.
“Those with a newborn baby at home are likely to be having sleepless nights, not to mention feeding round the clock and endless nappy changes.
“New mums also often go through a huge period of readjustment, physically and mentally, so the notion that they will engage with a complex legal process is simply unrealistic in many cases.
“It is likely that far more women would assert their rights if the time limit was increased from three months to six.
“Having worked as an employment rights lawyer for many years, I all too often saw women demoted or dismissed after returning from maternity leave, and employers putting up unnecessary barriers to flexible working. “I saw women being paid less than men for work of equal value, and women who were too afraid to speak out when they were discriminated against, for fear of losing their job.
“Those experiences motivated me to try to make a difference. “Two years ago, on International Women’s Day, after I had become a mum, “I launched my business providing affordable legal advice to women who faced maternity and sex discrimination at work, which I ran until I was elected to this place.
“I wish there was no demand for such a business, but there was, and that is borne out by the statistics.
“In 2016, the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Equality and Human Rights Commission undertook a major survey which found more than three in four mothers—77 per cent—said that they had a negative or discriminatory experience before, during or after their maternity leave.
“One in five mums reported experiencing harassment or negative comments from colleagues or their employer relating to pregnancy or flexible working. “Ten per cent. of mums said that their employer discouraged them from attending antenatal appointments, and 11pc said that they felt forced to leave their job after having a child.
“Scaled up, that amounts to 54,000 women a year being forced to leave their job simply for becoming a mum.” (Source: TheyWorkForYou)