End pregnancy discrimination

Maternity Action calls for urgent action on pregnancy discrimination.

The Government has come under fire from the UN for failing to tackle pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

The UK is bound by the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW ) to end such discrimination. Every four years they must report to the UN on their progress. Charities like Maternity Action can submit accompanying ‘shadow reports’ to provide a perhaps more realistic assessment of women’s equality in the UK.

This year Maternity Action gave evidence outlining our alarm at the government’s continued failure to tackle discrimination against pregnant women and new mothers in the workplace.

In the UK there are laws in place to protect employees from discrimination or dismissal because of pregnancy or maternity leave.

However, the laws are not working. In 2005 the Equal Opportunities Commission found that 30,000 women lost their job each year as a result of pregnancy discrimination and half of all pregnant women experienced some form of discrimination at work.

At Maternity Action we know that the recession has only caused the situation to deteriorate as calls to our advice line and downloads to our information sheets have rocketed. Yet very few women take action on their discrimination. 71% of women who lose their jobs take no action at all and only 3% take a claim to employment tribunal.

Jane’s story: On the day Jane returned from maternity leave, her employers gave her maternity cover a permanent position at the company. Just over a month later, they announced that all employees in her department were at risk of redundancy due to a re-structure across the company. The selection criteria chosen to decide who would be offered the remaining jobs was performance over the past year – when Jane was on maternity leave. Jane was selected for redundancy based on this assessment and told that there were no other jobs available with the company.


After reviewing the evidence, the CEDAW Committee expressed concern at reports of persistent discrimination against pregnant women in employment and their access to justice. They recommended the UK Government ensure women’s access to justice in employment cases, including in cases related to discrimination on grounds of pregnancy and motherhood.

While CEDAW recommendations are not legally binding on the UK Government, they provide additional pressure on Government to take action. It is time that the Government accepted that maternity rights at work are human rights, and intervened to protect them.

Maternity Action, and a whole host of organisations supporting the Valuing Maternity campaign, are calling on the Government to undertake an urgent investigation into pregnancy discrimination to document the nature and incidence of discrimination following the economic downturn. We want to see interventions to prevent pregnancy discrimination rather than leaving it to individual women to take action when incidents occur. We want adequately funded specialist and generalist advice services to ensure that women can access information and advice about maternity rights.

We also want the Government to reverse recent decisions which make it harder for women to take claims to the employment tribunal. The Government should scrap employment tribunal fees (now £1200) for pregnancy discrimination claims and reintroduce the discrimination questionnaire procedure. Most importantly of all, we think it is time that the Government made clear and unambiguous public statements about the value of maternity and parental rights to families and the economy as a whole, and publicly challenge any criticism of maternity rights.

Think you might have been discriminated against?

Tell us your story by Tweeting using the hashtag #whenIhadmybaby or email us on [email protected] – you can remain anonymous! Take a picture of your workspace or anything else that represents work to you and contribute to the When I Had My Baby photo project.

Maternity Action’s Advice Line provides expert advice and information to help you understand and take up your rights and entitlements throughout your pregnancy, maternity leave and return to work. Workingmums.co.uk’s Ask the Expert pages can also provide advice and support.

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