23 August 2016
The number of people seeking information on pregnancy discrimination from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website has doubled in the last year, new figures have revealed.
What’s more the number of people seeking help from the advice agency at face to face meetings has increased by a huge 58% over the last two years from 2,099 to 3,307.
”Pregnant women and mums who have just had a baby are protected by a whole range of rights at work. But in a growing number of cases employers aren’t playing by the rules and women are losing out,” Chief Executive of Citizens Advice, Gillian Guy, said.
“In some cases women are having their hours cut or even being moved onto zero hours contracts when they tell their employers they are pregnant. This can have a real impact on their income security as suddenly they don’t know what hours they will work or how they will be paid – the last thing they want when they are expecting a child,” she explained.
Indeed, Sports Direct is currently facing charges of discrimination against new mothers after it moved workers previously on guaranteed hours contracts to zero-hours contracts when they returned from maternity leave.
In other cases outlined by Citizens Advice, women have been made redundant, have come back to work to find their role has been changed, or have faced negligence around health and safety protections when they inform their employers of their pregnancy.
The Bureau criticised the “confusing landscape” of employment law regulation and its poor funding, which it said was letting unscrupulous employers get away with bad practice.
“Maternity protections are part of people’s employment rights but responsibility for enforcing these is poorly resourced and spread across a wide range of agencies, from HMRC to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority,” Gillian Guy explained.
The organisation called for more coherent enforcement in the form of a single, well-resourced, to identify and target bad employers; better access to employment tribunals; and increased awareness of employment law among employers and workers.
In our new Manifesto for Labour Law – 25 policy proposals for the next Labour government – the Institute of Employment Rights (IER) recommends a legal framework to help achieve the objectives laid out by the Citizens’ Advice Bureau.
Firstly, we propose strengthening statutory individual rights, including discrimination and health and safety laws, and the implementation of a new ‘worker’ status to ensure these rights cover vulnerable groups such as agency workers and people currently misclassified as self-employed. These rights would be enforceable from day one of employment and would be enforced by collectively agreed procedures or in specialist labour courts, which we recommend are established to deal exclusively with all employment and labour-related matters.
Secondly, we propose the introduction of Labour Inspectors as enforcement agents. They would have the power to initiate legal proceedings on behalf of workers, cancel dismissal notices, order reinstatements and require employers to cease and desist from taking action prejudicial to workers.
Orders made by the Labour Inspector could be appealed by either employer or worker through employment tribunals, which we propose should be free at the point of use and form part of the first tier of the new Labour Court. We recommend removing the obligation to have a pre-hearing, removing the cap on unfair dismissal compensation, and introducing criminal penalties for employers that fail to comply with tribunal awards.