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UK Employers Attitudes to Pregnant Women Needs to Change, says Trades Union Congress

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) last week released a report, which suggested that attitudes held by employers must urgently be changed, with expectant mothers still being dismissed, bullied and sidelined.

The TUC report - called ‘The Pregnancy Test: Ending Discrimination at Work for New Mothers’ - said that what the law states on paper and what happens in reality are two different stories. TUC found that many pregnant women feel shunned as soon as they give their workplace the news that they are expecting.

The report suggests, that employers hold a poor attitude directly correlates with the rising numbers of employment tribunal claims being brought by pregnant women. But that being said, TUC still believes that these numbers would be even higher, if heavily pregnant women and those with new born children simply do not want to deal with a stressful legal battle. Furthermore, the tribunal fees, which were introduced in July 2013, mean taking a claim to the tribunal can cost £1,200. The high expense of raising a claim may prevent many women from enforcing their rights, especially when statutory maternity pay currently sits at just £138 per week.

‘The Pregnancy Test’ shows that around a quarter of women do not return to work at all after maternity leave. Moreover, many mothers are forced to change jobs after employers refuse reduced or flexible working hours. There is also still a clear disparity between men and women who work part-time due to childcare issues - while six in ten mothers with children at nursery or primary school and five in ten of mothers with older children at secondary school work part-time, just one in ten fathers work part-time. It is clear therefore, that the careers of women may be impacted upon by having children, while the careers of men are rarely effected.

But not only are women working less hours than men, women also still being paid less than men - part-time working women earn on average a third less per hour than the average hourly rate for full-time men, further increasing the inequality gap between the sexes which was supposed to be addressed decades ago.

TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “The law might have changed 40 years ago, but the way many employers behave when they discover an employee is pregnant suggests they are stuck in a 1970s time warp – back to an age when starting a family meant the end of paid work for women.

“This report shows that for many women what should be one of the happiest times of their lives soon becomes full of anxiety and stress – one where bullying, harassment and ill-treatment in the workplace is an unacceptably common experience. More needs to be done to drag old-fashioned employers into the 21st century so that mothers who work are as valued by their bosses as working fathers”, Ms O’Grady added.

The TUC report makes five recommendations in order to end the inequality: firstly, the abolishment of employment tribunal fees; secondly, employers should have to publish their return-to-work rates and act on their findings; thirdly, flexible working hours must become more widespread; fourthly, the Government should introduce between paid leave for fathers; and finally, employers who are taken to a tribunal over a pregnancy or maternity related complaint should be forced to act to improve their employment practices if they are found by the tribunal to have discriminated against their female employee.

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