· Features

Hot topic: Extended maternity rights

The government has set out proposals to increase rights for pregnant women and new mothers through protecting them against redundancy for six months after they return to work

With 11% of new mothers getting fired or being made redundant, is this a significant step forward or could the plans go further?

Jane van Zyl, CEO of Working Families, says:

"These proposals are a good start in terms of protecting new mothers returning to work from being made redundant. But this is only meaningful if women have the time, energy, resource, confidence or necessary knowledge to take their employer to a tribunal. Extending time limits to allow pregnant women and new mothers to bring their employer to tribunal is crucial to the success of any new protections.

"However, the sad truth is that of those women who do get to tribunal very few will manage to negotiate a settlement or enforce a judgement with damages high enough to force their employer to review – and hopefully change – their practice.

"What’s really key is workplace culture change; with better, more widespread and embedded flexible working at its heart. This would mean new mothers returning to work part time or flexibly aren’t seen as working in an ‘unusual’ or ‘different’ (and what some employers would consider ‘sub-optimal’) way."

Joeli Brearley, founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, says:

"The government’s proposals are a load of hot air. The impact will be minimal and could potentially cause more harm than good.

"The research it has used to base this decision on is an EHRC report, which actually showed that more mothers are made redundant when the enhanced protections exist than when they don’t. This proves that the enhanced protections that are already in place are not working, so what is the point of extending them? Importantly, the proposals also ignore how few women are able to access justice. There is little point in enhancing the law if women can’t use it to protect themselves.

"Finally, this proposal places further pressure on employers. With 30% of employers saying they avoid hiring women of childbearing age, there is always the possibility that it could trigger further discrimination towards women in the recruitment process."

Check back tomorrow for part two of this hot topic