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On 31 October, Pregnant Then Screwed, the campaigning organisation set up by Joeli Brierley, will hold a rally at Trafalgar Square before marching to the Houses of Parliament to demand that the Government take decisive action to protect women from pregnancy and maternity discrimination. Following a successful campaign by them and others to abolish employment tribunal fees, they are specifically calling for an increase in the time limit to raise a tribunal claim from three months to (at least) six months; a legal requirement on companies to report on how many flexible working requests are made and how many are granted; for the self-employed to have access to statutory shared parental pay; and for childcare to be subsidised from six months old, rather than three years. Those attending are asked to dress as mummies (the walking dead kind!) to attract extra attention. For more information contact Joeli on Joeli@pregnantthenscrewed.com.
Workingmums.co.uk: How many people do you hope to mobilise for the march? How are you doing this? Are you linking up with other groups?
Joeli Brierley: Obviously we want as many people as possible to join. The more people there are the more noise we can make and the more attention we will get for this issue. This is our chance to come together and make a stand against something that affects almost all working mums. We are linking in with other organisations to promote the march and our demands and we have support from some MPs, some celebrities and some prolific mum bloggers so that should help raise awareness of what we are doing.
WM: How much support among MPs have you had around increasing the time limit on tribunal claims to at least six months?
JB: The Early Day Motion has been signed by 91 MPs and that covers every political party. This is a big problem and the majority of MPs can see it is a serious issue for pregnant and postpartum women. The brilliant Kate Green MP recently raised this issue again in Parliament and both Harriet Harman and Caroline Lucas have been very supportive of our Give Me Six campaign.
WM: You must be very pleased that the recent ruling on Employment Tribunal fees after all your campaigning. What do you plan to do now? Do you know women who have not taken out cases because of fees?
JB: We are asking anyone who felt they were unable to take their case to tribunal due to fees to contact us as we may be able to help. In terms of getting refunds the Government are yet to announce the process for this.
WM: How important is transparency on flexible working requests and responses for pushing the case for flexible working?
JB: A lack of flexible working is a huge issue for all employees, but it disproportionately affects mothers. Flexible working gives employees some control over how, when and where they work, rather than shoehorning your brilliant staff into a structure that doesn’t suit anyone. Time and time again it has been shown that companies who treat their staff as adults who deserve trust and respect reap the benefits. When a company implements flexible working policies their staff retention increases as does their productivity and creativity. Yet, companies just aren’t offering their employees flexible working options. Ultimately, it is about being reluctant to change. Our labour markets are generally controlled by old farts who like to stick with the status quo. We need to create a culture shift and by forcing companies to be transparent about their employees’ experience, it should help force that change.
We hear from hundreds of women who have had to leave their jobs and sometimes the workforce altogether as they are unable to find work that allows them to be a mother and an employee. We also hear from hundreds of mums who have had to take huge pay cuts or whose careers have completely stagnated as they have wanted flexible working. This just isn’t on.
WM: How important is formal flexible working vs informal? Is there too much emphasis now on informal ‘agile’ working over formal flexible working, particularly part-time hours? What are the drawbacks of this?
JB: Flexible working can be used by employers to make you work longer hours. The fact that you are now constantly connected to emails through your phone means that many can never switch off and many employers expect you to be available round the clock. This is when the idea of flexible working becomes a problem for employees. Working part time means you are not working five days a week for at least seven hours a day. For many women they will drop a few hours so they can collect their kids from school or a day so that they can spend that time with their young child rather than putting them in childcare. However, for many women I speak to their workload doesn’t actually reduce, but their pay does. Many companies adopting flexible working models have not changed their attitudes to roles.
WM: Are you working with dads groups over the campaign for six weeks non-transferable leave for dads at 90% of salary? Do you think this should be capped at average earnings as it is in places like Iceland [and should the same be done for women] to allow for higher rates of statutory pay?
JB: I realise this is a popular concept to improve parental leave pay across the board and I can see why people are attracted to it, but personally I don’t think it is the right solution. For parents who earn more money their outgoings tend to be much higher. If the pay is capped then those on higher earnings may struggle to afford their outgoings and what we want is for care to be valued. You are doing a job when you are caring, a very important job and that deserves to be paid properly.
WM: In the light of Brexit and the hung Parliament, meaning it is unlikely there will be any major legislation brought to Parliament that is not Brexit-related in the near future, how important is it to keep campaigning and building a popular case for change?
JB: It is more important than ever. The protections that we took for granted are now in jeopardy so we need to ensure parental rights stay high on the agenda. We don’t want to just see them maintained; we want people to realise that there is a problem with the existing legislation as it stands.