MPs call for greater protection for pregnant workers

There has been a ‘shocking’ increase in workplace pregnancy discrimination over the past decade

This is according to a House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee report released today.

The Pregnancy and maternity discrimination report estimates that around 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs every year in Britain: a number reported to have doubled in the last 10 years.

The report demands that the government makes changes in laws and protections to ensure a safe working environment for new and expectant mothers, to prevent discriminatory redundancies, and to increase protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers.

Other recommendations made by the Committee include:

• Requiring employers to undertake an individual risk assessment when they are informed that a woman who works for them is pregnant, has given birth in the past six months, or is breastfeeding. The Health and Safety Executive should include this requirement in its guidance to employers by the end of 2016;

• New and expectant mothers concerned that their health and/or the health of their baby is being put at risk by their work should have an easily accessible formal mechanism to compel their employer to deal with such risks appropriately;

• A statement of the government’s intention to ensure that rights and protections are not eroded during and after Brexit;

• The government should work with the main organisations providing free, good quality, one-to-one advice to women on pregnancy and maternity discrimination to monitor the uptake of and estimated unmet need for such advice.

Committee chair Maria Miller warned that the economy will pay the price if improvements are not made.

“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,” she said. “Shockingly this figure has almost doubled in the last decade, now standing at 54,000.

"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.”

Sarah Jackson, chief executive of Working Families, said action is already overdue.

“We hear from women experiencing maternity and pregnancy discrimination every single week,” she said. “These practices should have no place in British working life. The Committee’s call for a serious plan from the government is long overdue. The current system isn’t working – bolstering protection from redundancy for new and expectant mothers and levelling the playing field for women on zero-hours, agency and casual contracts would help plug some of the gaps.”

The report follows new research from Citizens Advice, which revealed that the number of women seeking advice on discrimination around maternity and maternity leave issues has increased by almost 60% in just a year.

Just over 3,300 women visited Citizens Advice with discrimination-related issues in the year to June, compared with 2,099 in 2015.