Education secretary Ruth Kelly is backing a national campaign by retail union Usdaw to boost the rights of working mothers.
The union found that new mothers working in the retail sector are being driven back to the shopfloor too soon after giving birth because they cannot afford to take their full statutory maternity leave.
A national survey revealed that 78% of new mothers would have liked more time off with their new babies, but went back, on average, six weeks before their statutory maternity pay ran out.
The survey found that two-thirds of those going back early to work returned because they could not afford to stay off, and the union found the average cost of taking a full 12 months off was £7,000.
“We know the average wage for women workers in retail is £200 a week so most of our members simply cannot afford to lose that sort of money,” says John Hannett, Usdaw General Secretary.
“It means a stark choice between staying off with your child or paying your mortgage, which is an unacceptable pressure when you could be bonding with your child.”
New fathers face the same economic dilemma, with every father surveyed wanting more paid paternity leave but saying they could not afford to take extra unpaid leave to spend with their newborn child.
In response to these figures, Kelly has given her support to a national Supporting Parents and Carers campaign which puts improving parental rights at the heart of Usdaw’s negotiating strategy with employers and government.
“I understand the need to support workers who have parental responsibilities and it is important that Usdaw is making a real commitment to increasing workplace provision in negotiation with some of Britain’s biggest retailers,” she said.