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A reminder this Halloween of the real horrors that working mums face

As a number of protests are held across the UK today to highlight the difficulties faced by pregnant women and mothers in the workplace, employment lawyer Linda Wong adds her support to the cause and argues that current employment legislation is inadequate.

Mummy hand
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Linda is an employment lawyer based in Leigh Day’s Manchester office working with Chris Benson in large multi claimant equal pay cases against Asda and Sainsbury’s supermarkets.
Mummies are literally taking to the streets this Halloween and many will gather outside Parliament at both Westminster and Stormont with emblazoned placards. These are not the voiceless undead but a growing group of campaigners brought together by the organisation, Pregnant Then Screwed.

At 12pm, several other campaign groups including Parental Pay Equality and Working Families will be supporting the protest alongside Pregnant Then Screwed, in what is now trending on social media as “March of the Mummies”. They are petitioning for change and to demonstrate against the unacceptable attitudes of some employers towards pregnant women.

It is right to highlight the real and present horror facing working mums in this country. There is no escaping the chilling statistics; the charity Maternity Action estimates that as many as 60,000 pregnant women are forced out of their jobs every year due to pregnancy. It is further estimated that 77% of working mums endure negative or discriminatory treatment in the workplace and that these numbers have almost doubled in the last 10 years.

Some of the issues raised by Pregnant Then Screwed include improved employment and childcare arrangements as well as increasing the employment tribunal limitation period for bringing a discrimination case from three to six months.

Is current legislation inadequate? Quite simply, yes.

A survey by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in 2015 confirmed that of 3,200 women interviewed, 11% of women of reported having been dismissed, made compulsorily redundant where others in their workplace were not, or treated so poorly during their period of pregnancy or maternity that they had no choice but to leave their jobs.

The same EHRC survey reported that one in five mothers confirmed that they had experienced harassment or negative comments related to pregnancy or flexible working from their employer or colleagues; if scaled up to the general population this could mean as many as 100,000 mothers are discriminated against a year.

With these staggering statistics in mind, it is astonishing that the number of victims who actually brought a claim for discrimination in the employment tribunal stands at less than one percent. With the many barriers already facing working mothers, a further legislative hurdle is that the current law requires a discrimination claim to be brought within three months of the act of discrimination.

Many soon-to-be or working mums admit that it is extremely difficult balancing physical exhaustion of new motherhood with the mental and emotional anxiety of being unfairly treated at work. The reality is that a tribunal claim is not a priority in the first few months following childbirth.

The #Givemesix campaign spearheaded by Pregnant Then Screwed is asking that the Government extend the time limit to raise a tribunal claim for pregnant and postpartum women to at least six months. The petition has been signed by over 54,000 people and the Early Day Motion is supported by 102 MPs. The petition can be found on the change.org website and you can sign it here.

The gender pay gap in this country is also largely attributed to motherhood, with the pay gap opening up significantly once a woman is in her mid-thirties. The key factor has been linked to fewer opportunities for promotion because of maternity absence or continuing childcare commitments. It is also common to find that some women are being paid less than men for doing exactly the same work, or work that is of equal value, which is of course outright discrimination as well.

The Equality Act 2010 does offer some protections; however the framework appears inadequate when read alongside the current statistics that clearly support the need for more legislative intervention. The Government knows the current statistics; it was the government after all that commissioned the EHRC to scale the problem of pregnancy and maternity discrimination. 

Following the report in July 2015, David Cameron pledged to “end the gender pay gap in a generation”. It is October 2017; the pay gap persists and working mothers are still at the wrong end of the statistics.

There is no wonder that the mummies are marching.

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