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Friday, 27 January 2017

'Zero tolerance' of discrimination against expectant or new mothers at work

Written by The Press Association

Pregnant women and new mothers could be given greater protection from being sacked under Government plans.

Business minister Margot James said there would be "zero tolerance" of discrimination against expectant or new mothers in the workplace.

The Government will consult on options to make sure there are sufficient protections against redundancy in place for working mothers.

But unions pressed for further action to make it easier for women who have been sacked or discriminated against to take their employer to a tribunal.

Ms James said: "We are determined to tackle pregnancy and maternity discrimination and a key part of that is making sure new and expectant mothers are supported and treated fairly by their employers.

"While most businesses abide by the law, some do not. There should be zero tolerance of discrimination against pregnant women, or women who have just given birth, that's why today we are committing to making sure new and expectant mothers have sufficient protections from redundancy."

The commitment to take action followed a report by the Commons Women and Equalities Committee which called for a German-style system banning employers from making women redundant during and after pregnancy, except in specific exceptional circumstances.

The committee also called for a "substantial" cut in the £1,200 fee for women taking a pregnancy-related discrimination case to an employment tribunal and extending the time limit for making a claim from three to six months.

In her response to the committee's report, Ms James said: "The fact that women face discrimination in the workplace as a result of pregnancy or for taking maternity leave is wholly unacceptable and unlawful.

"It is shocking that some employers still behave in this way and alienate a key group of their workforce. It makes no business sense. The Government is committed to taking action to tackle this problem."

But the Government said the evidence did not suggest the three-month time limit was a barrier and the conclusions of a review into employment tribunal fees would be published "shortly".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "We are pleased the Government has finally published its plans for tackling pregnancy discrimination. However, ministers are still not confronting the elephant in the room - the impact of employment tribunal fees.

"Bad bosses will continue to get away with discriminating against new mums as long as it costs up to £1,200 to take a pregnancy discrimination claim.

"It's also very disappointing that the Government has not extended the time women have to bring a claim.

"My advice to women is to join a union. As the Equality and Human Rights Commission highlighted, pregnant women and new mums are treated better in workplaces that recognise trade unions."

The Women and Equalities Committee chairwoman Maria Miller said the response was a "missed opportunity for the Government to demonstrate the urgency and bite on this issue that we found lacking when we published our report in August".

Tory former cabinet minister Ms Miller said the committee welcomed the Government's "assertions that it takes the issues seriously" but added that there was a "disheartening lack of detail or new ideas".

She said: "The Government has made a commitment to consider further proposals to ensure that the protections in place for pregnant women and those returning from maternity leave are sufficient.

"We urge the Government to look again at the specific steps we put forward - new protections are needed, particularly for women who have casual or zero-hours employment arrangements, for ensuring that risks in the workplace for pregnant women are addressed, and for guarding against discriminatory redundancies after women return to work."

The committee was also "disappointed" that the Government had not accepted the recommendation to extend the employment tribunal time limit.

Shadow women and equalities secretary Sarah Champion said: "The report from the cross party Women and Equalities Committee gave specific recommendations on how to empower working mums and tackle maternity discrimination in the workplace.

"The Government's response is a mixture of defending the unacceptable status quo and kicking issues into the long grass."

Copyright (c) Press Association Ltd. 2017, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) Anthony Devlin / PA Wire.

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