More needs to be done to address growing concerns over pregnancy and maternity redundancy in the wake of Covid.
Over the course of the Covid pandemic workingmums.co.uk has heard from many women who have been pushed into impossible situations regarding work. Many have been forced to go into work during the latest lockdown despite the fact that they could easily work from home – a TUC report last week showed a fifth of workers are still going into work and 19 per cent of these feel they would be able to do their job from home.
Most are not key workers and therefore have no access to schools unless their partner, if they have one, is a key worker – and even then we have heard of schools turning families down for places if both parents are not key workers. This is despite the guidance saying clearly that only one parent needs to be a key worker. Many schools, on the other hand, have seen the number of children being sent into school during this lockdown rise and have been understandably worried about the associated Covid risks.
Others, of course, genuinely cannot do their work from home and their options with regard to childcare are mainly to take annual leave, unpaid parental leave, to create a childcare bubble with another household, to flex their hours/ask for flexible furlough or to ask for furlough on the grounds that they cannot work due to childcare issues. We know that most of the latter requests are being turned down by employers and employees have no recourse if that is the case.
Furlough may seem like a good option, but many are afraid it puts them at the front of the line for redundancy.
Redundancy risks for women are likely to rise as a result of all of these issues. Our survey in November, before the latest lockdown, found that around a quarter of those who had lost their jobs during the pandemic felt it was due to childcare issues.
The Women and Equalities Committee called last week for the extension of redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers and urged the Government to publish a strategy on pregnancy and maternity discrimination within the next six months.
The debate around the decision to rush through maternity protections for Cabinet ministers due to Suella Braverman’s pregnancy also brought discussion of the need for increased protections for women – something that Theresa May’s government promised.
Enforcement of legislation is also key with the employment tribunal backlog only likely to increase.
On another enforcement issue, last week also saw suggestions that the Government may, once again, suspend enforcement of gender pay gap reporting as it did last year, sending a clear message to employers that equality at work is a secondary issue, just part of the collateral damage of Covid. What does that do when expectations of equality have arguably never been stronger?
Of course, some employers will continue to report and to look to support working families with regard to lockdown childcare issues. The divide that will open between those employers and the rest will widen further. Moreover, many women who lose their jobs will be forced into more insecure forms of work.
What is clear is that, in the absence of government action on equality, those who are committed to it and see the clear benefits must redouble their efforts to ensure the gap between haves and have nots doesn’t widen; to highlight what good employers are doing and its impact as an example to others; and to make the case that, in an effective economy, all boats must rise.