New mums face “shocking” discrimination at work, say MPs

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Moya Crockett
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It was recently confirmed that motherhood has a dramatic impact on women’s earnings in the UK, with the gender pay gap widening dramatically after the birth of a woman’s first child.

And now MPs have said that “urgent action” is needed to make sure that pregnant women and new mothers are protected at work, after a “shocking” increase in discrimination.

The number of women being made redundant during and after pregnancy has almost doubled to 54,000 since 2005, the Women and Equalities Committee said in a report published on Wednesday.

MPs are calling for the current system to be rehauled, making it more difficult for women to lose their jobs if and when they fall pregnant.

Although it’s illegal in the UK for a woman to be fired because she is pregnant or has a child, companies can find other reasons for making her redundant.

Some 11% of women have reported being either dismissed, made redundant when others in their workplace weren’t, or treated so badly that they felt they had to quit, according to government research. 

“The arrival of a new baby puts family finances under extreme pressure yet, despite this, thousands of expectant and new mothers have no choice but to leave their work because of concerns about the safety of their child or pregnancy discrimination,” said Maria Miller, the chair of the Women and Equalities Committee.

“The economy will suffer unless employers modernise their workplace practices to ensure effective support and protection for expectant and new mums,” she continued, adding that the government’s approach to the issue so far “has lacked urgency and bite”.

The Women and Equalities Committee wants a German-style system to be introduced, where female employees cannot be dismissed from the start of pregnancy until their child is four months old.

In Germany, expectant or new mothers cannot be made redundant in very rare cases (for example, if the firm goes bankrupt), and the company still needs government approval to do so, according to the BBC.

MPs also called for a substantial reduction in the £1,200 fee currently charged for bringing a pregnancy-related discrimination case to an employment tribunal – and said that women should be able to take such cases to a tribunal up to six months after they’ve been dismissed.

Zero-hours, casual and agency workers should also be granted greater workplace protections, according to the report, in order to make it easier for pregnant women to attend antenatal appointments. 

The government has said it will consider the recommendations. We say: change can’t come soon enough.

Images: iStock, Rex Features