Law Centres join a call on government to bolster redundancy protections for pregnant women and new mothers

Friday, February 12th 2021

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LCN is among 20 organisations that have called on the Business Secretary to expedite Maria Miller MP's Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill into law in order to not delay new protection it offers.

The joint call, also endorsed by Maternity Action, Working Families and the TUC, follows a report by the Women and Equalities Committee. The report, ‘Unequal impact? Coronavirus and the gendered economic impact, found evidence of “potentially unlawful and discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic.” It has concluded that the Government must act now ‘to prevent further discrimination’.

Rapid action on this is particularly urgent as the UK is potentially facing a period of unprecedented job losses, and pregnant women and new mothers may be especially at risk of these, and current provisions simply do not offer them sufficient protection.

Pregnant women are, for example, not explicitly covered by the Government’s furlough scheme. This has resulted in hundreds, and possibly thousands, of pregnant women being unlawfully sent home on sick pay or unpaid leave, instead of being suspended on full pay.

In addition, there is evidence that the NHS and other public bodies are not following guidance for protecting women over 28 weeks pregnant, even though they are at greater risk of serious illness if they catch Covid19.

The government’s recent record on protecting pregnant women has not been encouraging. It has yet to strengthen legal protections against redundancy as it committed to doing in 2017. It has also not set up a task force on reducing pregnancy and maternity discrimination in the workforce, as it promised in 2019.   

On this issue, the letter argues that:

“The Government has stated that it plans to extend the period covered by the existing, so-called Regulation 10 protections for women on maternity leave in its promised but still awaited Employment Bill. However, as Mrs Miller noted when introducing her Bill on 8 July, extending the period covered by those provisions “would simply entrench a system that we know does not work”. For we know that, due to the uncertainty of success and the substantial financial cost of bringing an employment tribunal claim for breach of Regulation 10, very few women do so.”

Speeding up the Bill would introduce a new legal framework to cover women from pregnancy to six months after return to work. It would become unlawful to them redundant, except in very limited circumstances such as the closure of the business. The Bill would also make it less costly to bring forward an employment tribunal claim, therefore creating a strong disincentive to discriminatory practice by employers.