Margot James, the parliamentary under-secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, said that tackling discrimination against women who are mothers or pregnant was a major priority. The minister said that one of the key ways of doing this was to ensure that women received support and fair treatment in their places of employment.
James went on to say that many businesses stick to the regulations regarding pregnancy and maternity; however, others flout the rules. She added that discrimination against women who were new mothers or pregnant should not be tolerated. To achieve this, James said the government was pledging to protect expectant women and new mothers against forced redundancy.
James made her comments in response to a report compiled in August 2016. In this report, from the Women and Equalities Committee of MPs, action was called for to urgently address the treatment of recent mothers and expectant women by their employers.
An investigation into this kind of discrimination had been commissioned by the Human Rights Commission, along with the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, last year. This study found that around 11 per cent – or up to one in nine – recent mothers had felt pressure of some kind to vacate their work positions.
The government responded to this research by saying that this situation was fundamentally unacceptable and that measures would have to be put in place to safeguard the jobs of pregnant women and those who take maternity leave.
Maria Miller, who chairs the Women and Equalities Committee, said that the government had committed itself to examining more options to make sure that safeguards are in place to help expectant and new mothers to be more secure in their employment. She added that the government had been urged to look at some measures that had been recommended, including for women who had a zero-hours contract or a casual working arrangement.
Miller said that the government also needed to address the risks that the pregnant faced at work and to eliminate redundancies that were the result of discriminatory practices.
The government has stated that it will not give women who have claimed maternity or pregnancy discrimination added time for their cases to be processed by employment tribunals. Miller said this was disappointing and that the government had not taken on board the fact that more women could initiate action against employers should the time for doing so be increased. She described this as the government missing an opportunity to demonstrate that the issue required urgent and definitive steps to address it.
The government replied that a study had indicated that only around four per cent of new mothers who were thinking of making a claim had not acted, and that this failure to act was unrelated to the time limit for doing so.
The government also added that employment tribunals already possessed the power to be flexible with the time limit for hearing a case and could extend it when necessary.
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