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Speaking to the Justice Committee about employment tribunal fees – #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : November 23, 2015 2:07 pm : News

Maternity Action gave evidence to the Justice Committee review of court and tribunal fees last week.  We outlined the dramatic decline in employment tribunal claims by pregnant women and new mothers following the introduction of fees of up to £1200.  Thousands of women are priced out of access to justice and it is time the Government acted on this.

We argued that the person bringing a claim isn’t the only one to benefit from it.  The claim benefits the employee who doesn’t face unlawful treatment because of the deterrent effect of the tribunal.  It benefits the employer who doesn’t face unfair competition from other employers who reduce their costs by ignoring their legal obligations.

We flagged the wider social and economic benefits from compliance with employment law relating to pregnant women and new mothers.  There are benefits in promoting gender equality and protecting the health and wellbeing of pregnant women and their babies.

After fees were introduced, the number of claims for pregnancy-related detriment and dismissal dropped by 40%.  This is extremely worrying.  What is more worrying is that this is a cut to an already very small proportion of women who pursue legal action against their employer.

Research from 2005 found that the vast majority of women experiencing substantive discrimination, such as losing their job, do absolutely nothing.  71% don’t even discuss it with their manager.  The proportion who pursued an employment tribunal in the years before fees were introduced was only 3%.  Following the introduction of fees, this figure is now below 2%.

We need the employment tribunal to be an effective deterrent for employers considering whether or not to comply with their legal obligations.  This means supporting women to exercise their legal rights rather than making justice unaffordable.

Removing employment tribunal fees is essential to addressing the appallingly high rates of pregnancy discrimination.  Join us in asking the Government to take action.



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Making waves – the #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : November 16, 2015 12:24 pm : News, Uncategorized

After five weeks of the #MothersWork campaign, the appalling problem of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace is getting more of the attention it deserves.  Supporters have written to their MP, engaged in debate on Twitter and Facebook and written brilliant blogs. Our work with Parliamentarians resulted in a Westminster Hall debate and dozens of Parliamentary Questions.  If you haven’t yet emailed your MP asking for action on pregnancy discrimination, please write to them now.

The Parliamentary debate gave us a rare statement from a Government minister on pregnancy discrimination.  Caroline Dinenage MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Women, Equalities and Family Justice expressed her concern at the growing problem: “When the [BIS/EHRC first findings] report was published in July, I was horrified. It is clear that far too many women face unacceptable treatment in the workplace”.

Stuart McDonald MP of the Scottish National Party, who initiated the debate, raised the impact of Government policies on pregnancy discrimination:  “It is beyond reasonable doubt that certain government policies have made it harder, not easier, to tackle [pregnancy discrimination]. The supply of free legal advice has been severely reduced by funding cuts. Maternity Action’s free helpline now receives 42 times more calls than it is able to answer, and since July 2013 there have been upfront fees of up to £1,200 to pursue an employment tribunal claim.”

Conservatives MPs, Maria Miller, chair of the Women and Equalities Select Committee, and Dan Poulter both intervened in the debate.  Ms Miller subsequently tweeted “We cannot allow up to 54,000 new mothers a year [to] feel they should leave their job”.

Cat Smith MP, speaking for Labour, said “The current situation is completely unacceptable … and there are clear indications [it] is getting worse.”  Her colleague, Rupa Haq MP, commented: “Others have [already] pointed out the punitive effects of tribunal fees. The costs add up: £250 just to take the case, and £1,200 in total. New babies are not cheap, when we take into account childcare, kitting out the nursery, and all that stuff.”

Join us in asking the Government to take action on pregnancy discrimination.

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Time for action on pregnancy discrimination – #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : November 9, 2015 9:43 am : News

When David Cameron came into power in 2010, he promised to make the UK ‘the most family friendly country in Europe’.  Instead, there has been a massive deterioration in the working lives of pregnant women and new mothers across the UK.

The number of women losing their job as a result of pregnancy discrimination each year has almost doubled in the past decade, from 30 000 in 2005 to 54 000 in 2015.  The figure has gone up and up and up and up without any concerted action to sort the problem out.

Employer attitudes to pregnancy have worsened.  Now, 25% of employers think it is reasonable to ask women about their plans to have children during a job interview.  This is not acceptable.

Maternity Action and the Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination have prepared a plan of action. We’re not looking for changes in the law but actions which make employers follow the law without being dragged to the employment tribunal.

We need senior ministers across government to send a strong message to employers that there is simply no excuse to break the law on pregnancy and maternity discrimination. To be effective, this should be accompanied by a high-profile government information campaign aimed at improving both employers’ and women’s knowledge of their rights and obligations.

We want an end to employment tribunal fees.  It isn’t right that employers can rely on women dropping their claims because they can’t afford to pursue them.  We also want Government to make sure employers pay up when they lose in the tribunal.  It isn’t fair that employers weasel out of paying half of all tribunal awards.

We want funding for specialist advice services and legal aid so women can get the legal support they need, irrespective of their income.

We want to see the real value of maternity pay, paternity pay, adoption pay and shared parental pay immediately re-instated.  Below inflation increases have cut into the value of these payments at the same time as the cost of living has risen.  Over time, these payments should rise to the national minimum wage.  We want to see an increase in the reimbursement for Statutory Maternity Pay which is paid to small employers.

We would like to see laws to give women a statutory right to breastfeeding breaks and facilities. This would give real choices to women who don’t want to stop breastfeeding simply because they are returning to work.

We are also expecting to see a raft of quite detailed recommendations for action from the Equality and Human Rights Commission when the final report of their pregnancy discrimination research is released.  These will affect the Department of Health, Department of Justice, Health and Safety Executive, Department of Business Innovation and Skills and several other agencies within Government.  We think that a cross-departmental committee to implement these recommendations is essential.

Join us in asking the Government to take action on pregnancy discrimination.


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MPs to debate pregnancy & maternity discrimination – briefing

Richard Dunstan : October 30, 2015 4:01 pm : News

On Tuesday, 3 November, MPs will be discussing pregnancy & maternity discrimination at work during a one-hour Westminster Hall debate. The debate has been secured by Stuart McDonald of the SNP, but is open to MPs of all parties. We have produced the following briefing for MPs, summarising: (i) the key BIS/EHRC research findings published in July; (ii) our proposals for policy action; and (iii) the Government’s response to date. The briefing also links to related resources, including two collections of individual case studies.

WH Debate 03 11 15 Briefing


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Submission to Justice select committee inquiry into employment tribunal fees

Richard Dunstan : October 14, 2015 1:49 pm : News

This submission to the Justice select committee of MPs sets out our concerns in relation to the introduction of employment tribunal fees in July 2013, and in particular the impact on women subjected to pregnancy- or maternity-related detriment or dismissal.

It shows that, as of 31 March 2015, some 400 tribunal claims for pregnancy-related detriment or dismissal had been ‘lost’ to the fees of up to £1,200, of which some 320 (80 per cent) would have resulted in a settlement or tribunal award. Not only is that a significant reduction in the number of women seeking justice in relation to such unlawful discrimination, but it amounts to a significant diminution in the deterrent effect of the tribunal system against unlawful practice by employers.

MA submission to justice committee on ET fees


ET claims lost to fees, pregnancy detriment

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Pregnancy discrimination is getting worse – #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : October 7, 2015 8:18 am : News

When you hear about pregnancy discrimination in the media, it tends to be business people complaining about the cost of dealing with employment tribunal claims.  There are certainly a lot of women experiencing unfair and unlawful pregnancy discrimination at work, but how many actually take action?

Research from 2005 found that the vast majority of women who experience pregnancy discrimination do absolutely nothing to pursue their legal rights.  For women who experienced tangible discrimination (such as losing their job), 71% didn’t even discuss it with their employer.  Roughly one in five women had an informal discussion with their employer.  Fewer than one in ten submitted a grievance, sought external advice or took a claim to the tribunal.

When we examined the figures more closely we found that only 3% of women who experienced tangible pregnancy discrimination took their claims to the employment tribunal.  That’s a very small proportion of the women who could have pursued legal action.

All the signs suggest that the proportion of women taking legal action on pregnancy discrimination have dropped considerably since 2005.  Employment tribunals are no longer free of charge with women facing £1200 up-front fees to pursue a pregnancy discrimination claim. Fees have led to a ‘steep decline’ in the number of cases going to the tribunal.  On top of this, the Government has made massive cuts to legal aid and advice service funding, making it harder for women on low incomes. (Maternity Action receives no Government funding for our online information or telephone advice and we receive 42 times more calls than we can answer.)

Business people complaining about all these groundless pregnancy discrimination claims really don’t have a clue.  The vast majority of women who face unfair and unlawful treatment at work do not take legal action or even raise the problem with their manager.  They are worried about nasty consequences if they complain, often with very good reason.  They know taking action is stressful, and they have enough on their plate with a new baby.  They prefer to keep quiet, or leave their job, rather than cause a fuss.

We don’t need fancy new legislation to sort out the problem of pregnancy discrimination as the laws currently in place are clear.  What we do need is to make it easier (and cheaper) for women to pursue legal action, if that is what they want to do, and to focus on getting employers to do the right thing without being dragged to the tribunal.

We know that pregnancy discrimination is getting worse, not better.  Join us in asking Government to do something about it.



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Pregnancy discrimination forces women out of work – #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : October 7, 2015 8:17 am : News


When women call our advice line, they often ask about money.  Can they still get their Statutory Maternity Pay if they leave their job?  Do they have to repay it if they resign on maternity leave?  How does redundancy affect their maternity pay?  But this isn’t just about the financial pressures of a new baby and managing finances. So many of these women are leaving their jobs because of unfair and unlawful treatment by their employers, which is pregnancy discrimination.

Research by the Equality Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Department of Business Innovation and Skills found that 9% of pregnant women and new mothers in the workforce left their jobs because they were treated so badly by their employer that they felt they had to leave.  Across England, Scotland and Wales, that is 45 000 women each year.

Making ends meet with a new baby is increasingly difficult, so it says a lot that so many women are leaving their jobs because of poor treatment.  While the research doesn’t tell us what happened to make these women leave their jobs, we can give a few examples. After Janet raised a grievance about changes to her job while she was on maternity leave, she was ignored by senior staff and her working environment was unbearable.  Lorraine had her wages docked after taking time off because of a miscarriage.

The research also found that 2% of women are dismissed during their pregnancy, maternity leave or return to work.  That’s 10 000 women each year.  Another 2% are threatened with dismissal during this time.  Adjoa was told that her job was in jeopardy if she took leave for antenatal appointments or ‘made a nuisance of herself’.

A further 6% of women are made redundant during pregnancy, maternity leave or on return to work.  There are special protections for women who face redundancy on maternity leave, and the research found that one-third of employers didn’t follow them.  There is no shortage of guidance on managing redundancy and maternity – we chaired the committee which prepared this guide from ACAS and the EHRC.  But a lot of employers are still not following it, leaving pregnant women and new mothers unfairly selected for redundancy.

A lot of employers don’t know what they are doing when managing pregnant women and new mothers at work.  Many smaller employers don’t encounter pregnancies amongst their staff very often and are out of date on the rules.  But this doesn’t make it acceptable to force women out of their jobs.  The EHRC’s new toolkit for employers (which we helped write) is a useful resource and there is a lot of information on the Government’s ACAS website.

It is time that the Government took action to prevent women losing their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination, rather than leaving it to individual women to sort out on their own.  The final report of the EHRC/BIS research is due out in November and that is the time for the Government to release a plan of action to combat pregnancy discrimination.

Join us in asking the Government to stop forcing mothers out of their jobs.


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Pregnancy discrimination makes women sick – the #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : October 7, 2015 8:15 am : News

Of the 50 information sheets we produce on maternity rights at work and in the benefits system, the most popular is our info on sickness during pregnancy and maternity leave.  It is not because women spend a lot of their pregnancy being sick. The reason is so many employers do such a bad job of managing pregnant women at work that sickness becomes a big issue.

Recent research by the Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) found that one in ten women are discouraged from attending antenatal appointments by their employer.  Antenatal appointments are essential for protecting the health of mother and baby.  They pick up conditions such as anaemia, gestational diabetes and pre-eclampsia and depression.

Women are entitled to reasonable time off to attend antenatal appointments without loss of pay.  This shouldn’t come out of women’s sick leave or annual leave entitlements and women shouldn’t face any negative consequences for exercising this right.

Women are also facing poor health and safety protection at work. Almost half of all pregnant women experience problems with health and safety, either their employer didn’t initiate a discussion about it or the risks weren’t addressed.

Research into the meat and poultry processing industry found women reporting multiple miscarriages because of unsafe working conditions.  Our advice line regularly receives calls from women left to choose between unsafe working conditions or leaving their job.  We wrote a short briefing on the problems we were encountering.

The rules on health and safety during pregnancy are confusing.  While employers have to manage risks for individual women, there is no clear process for doing so.  Government needs to give clear direction here, and the old model of a specific risk assessment for each pregnant woman, breastfeeding woman and new mother makes a lot of sense.

Poor treatment at work is stressful and 15% of women say that their treatment at work affected their health.   That is 78,000 women each year who would be healthier if they weren’t facing unfair and unlawful treatment at work.

The laws are in place to protect the health of pregnant women and new mothers at work.  It is time Government intervened to make sure these laws are followed, rather than leaving it to individual women to sort it out on their own.

Join us in asking the Government to stop pregnancy discrimination.


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We’re launching the #MothersWork campaign

MaternityAction : October 7, 2015 8:07 am : News

As a charity providing advice to pregnant women and new mothers at work, we hear some terrible stories: women unfairly made redundant; women refused minor adjustments to working conditions to accommodate childcare responsibilities; women forced to work in unsafe conditions or else resign; women dismissed for spurious reasons when they announce their pregnancy; women criticised for attending antenatal appointments during work hours … We could go on.

We would like to think that these stories come from a few dinosaur employers who have yet to be dragged into the twenty-first century, but recent Government research shows this is not the case.  Unfair and unlawful treatment of pregnant women and new mothers, or pregnancy discrimination, affects an astounding number of women.

Each year, 54 000 women in England, Scotland and Wales lose their jobs because of pregnancy discrimination.  That is one in nine pregnant women in the workforce.  Hundreds of thousands of women experience other forms of unlawful treatment.  It is spread across large employers and small businesses, public and private sectors, and across all industry types.

One in five pregnant women and new mothers experience harassment or negative comments from their employer or their colleagues related to their pregnancy or flexible working arrangements. That’s 100 000 women each year who are being given a hard time for exercising their maternity rights at work.

The Equality & Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Department for Business Innovation & Skills (BIS) have interviewed over 3000 mothers and 3000 employers to get a clear and current picture of what is happening to mothers at work.  They released their preliminary findings in July, and are planning to deliver the final research reports in November.

The situation has worsened, not improved, in recent years.  Research from 2005 found that 30 000 women were forced out of work through pregnancy discrimination.  Ten years later, the figure has almost doubled to 54 000.  If Government maintains its current approach to pregnancy discrimination, we can expect these numbers to keep rising.

Maternity Action and the Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination are campaigning for the Government to take action to prevent pregnancy discrimination, not leave it up to individual women to sort it out on their own.  The final report of the EHRC/BIS research is due out in November and this is the time for the Government to announce its plan of action to combat pregnancy discrimination.

Join us in asking for Government to take pregnancy discrimination seriously.

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Successful judicial review of detention of a pregnant woman

MaternityAction : October 6, 2015 4:49 pm : News

The Home Office today settled a judicial review of detention of a pregnant woman, acknowledging that the detention was unlawful.  Maternity Action provided a witness statement in support of the action and we are delighted to see a positive outcome.

As part of the settlement, the Home Office has agreed to  review the policy concerning the detention of pregnant women and issue a new Detention Service Order regarding treatment in detention.  They will consult on the revised policy shortly.

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