British MP urges law to protect new moms from layoffs

Thousands pushed out of work each year: Study

British MP urges law to protect new moms from layoffs
Maria Miller arrives for a cabinet meeting at 10 Downing Street in London in 2014. REUTERS/Suzanne Plunkett/File Photo

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Pregnant women and new mothers would be protected from redundancy (layoff) until six months after returning to work, under proposed legislation presented to Britain's parliament on Tuesday.

"It's a scandal that in 2019 so many women should be fearful of losing their jobs simply because they are pregnant," lawmaker Maria Miller told parliament as she presented the bill.

Tens of thousands of pregnant women and new mothers are pushed out of work every year through dismissals, redundancies, discrimination or poor treatment, according to a study by the country's equality watchdog.

"Family life and the economy will both suffer unless workplace practices are brought into the 21st century," Miller said in a statement.

The proposed legislation would protect women from the moment they inform their employer of their pregnancy until six months after the end of their maternity leave.

Miller, chairwoman of parliament's Women and Equalities Committee, said employers too often ignored or circumvented existing protections covering pregnancy and maternity leave.

The proposed legislation would afford women similar protections to those in Germany, she said.

The rate of redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers is double the rate for all women in the workforce, according to the Equality and Human Rights Commission.

It estimates that maternity-related discrimination costs women between 47 million and 113 million pounds (C$193 million) each year.

"Maternity leave is a time for bonding with a new baby, it's a time for recovery . . . It is no time to be going for a job interview," Miller told parliament.

She said strengthening job protections would also help close Britain's gender pay gap.

The impact of having children is often said to be a cause of lower pay in Britain where men earned nearly 18 percent more than women last year.

Rosalind Bragg, director of the charity Maternity Action, welcomed the bill, saying her organization was often contacted by women who had lost their jobs during or after pregnancy.

"Although it is illegal to select a woman for redundancy because she is pregnant or on maternity leave, this is exactly what happens to them," she added.

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