Pregnancy

MPs have demanded ‘urgent action’ from the government to protect new and expectant mothers against discrimination in the workplace.

The Women and Equalities Committee has called for women in the UK to have the same protections similar to those in Germany, after a ‘shocking’ increase in pregnancy discrimination over the past decade.

The number of women in the UK who have been forced to leave their job due to concerns over the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination had doubled to 54,000 since 2005, said the committee.

They added that the government needs to publish an ambitions, detailed plan within the next two years or risk a further rise in pregnant women and mothers being forces out of their work.

Maria Miller, committee chair, said: "There are now record numbers of women in work in the UK. The economy will suffer unless employers modernise their workplace practices to ensure effective support and protection for expectant and new mums.

“The Government's approach has lacked urgency and bite. It needs to set out a detailed plan outlining the specific actions it will take to tackle this unacceptable level of discrimination. This work must be underpinned by concrete targets and changes to laws and protections to increase compliance by employers to improve women's lives”.

Research by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) revealed 11% of women reported being made compulsory redundant or treated so badly they felt they had to leave their job.

The EHRC study also found that three in four mothers (77%), the equivalent of 360,000 women, have faced negativity or discriminatory experiences before, during or after their maternity leave.

During their inquiry, MPs heard strong evidence that women were not taking action in large enough numbers to ensure compliance from employers on existing protections, whilst witnesses said the three-month limit on pregnancy and maternity discrimination cases didn’t recognise the pressures on mothers, and should be extended to six months.

Ms Miller added: “The Government's approach to improving compliance with pregnancy and maternity discrimination law has been confusing. It has stated that it is important to focus on enforcement and yet its main policy focus is awareness-raising and persuasion.

“It has voiced concern about the low numbers of women taking enforcement action against their employer, but has rejected the EHRC's recommendations to remove unfair barriers to justice and has no plans to ease the burden of enforcement on women”.

The Committee said there is a clear need for new and expectant mothers who are casual, agency and zero-hours workers to be properly protected.

It found that women in this group are more likely to report a risk or impact to their health and welfare than other types of worker; more likely to leave their employer as a result of health and safety risks not being resolved; and less likely to feel confident about challenging discriminatory behaviour.

Earlier this month, research by Citizens Advice revealed a 50% increase in the number of maternity leave issues being brought to them face-to-face in the last two years and a 100% increase in online visits to pregnancy discrimination advice pages in the past year.