A bill to protect pregnant women and new parents against being made redundant passed successfully through the House of Commons on Friday (3 February), moving it a step closer to becoming law.
The Protection from Redundancy (Pregnancy and Family Leave) Bill was supported by MPs unopposed and will now undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords.
Under current rules, employers have an obligation to offer an employee on maternity leave, shared parental leave or adoption leave a suitable vacancy where one exists during a redundancy exercise.
The new legislation, introduced by Labour MP Dan Jarvis, will extend this redundancy protection to include pregnant women as well as new parents returning to work after a relevant form of leave.
It will begin from the moment someone tells their boss they are pregnant and last until the child is 18 months old. This means a mother returning from one year’s maternity leave would receive an additional six months’ redundancy protection.
When introducing the Bill last year, Jarvis said “tens of thousands of women [are] pushed out of the workforce each year simply for being pregnant”.
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Paddy Lillis, general secretary of retail trade union Usdaw, said the current laws are “simply not adequate” and welcomed the Bill moving closer to becoming law.
“Strong employment and equality rights during pregnancy and maternity leave are absolutely necessary; pregnancy discrimination at work and in the labour market remains widespread, ranging from being denied paid time off for antenatal appointments to inadequate rest breaks and lack of a proper risk assessment,” he said.
“Women in unorganised workplaces face particular problems and are often too afraid or vulnerable to assert their rights. So trade unions and strong workplace organisation are crucial to defending and furthering women’s rights at work.”
In October last year, a former part-time employee of the retailer Morrisons was awarded £60,000 at tribunal after being asked to fulfil the responsibilities of a full-time worker when she returned from maternity leave.
Workplace equality charity Pregnant Then Screwed also welcomed the bill, but argued it had its limitations.
Founder Joeli Brearley said only 1% of women who face maternity or pregnancy discrimination raise a tribunal claim because of the cost of doing so and the three-month time limit in which to make a claim.
Merrill April, a partner at law firm CM Murray, said the bill still had “many hurdles to overcome before it is passed into law”, and would not guarantee protection from redundancy.
“The bill itself is an enabling piece of legislation in that if passed, it will give a power to the then Business Secretary to make Regulations regarding redundancy during pregnancy and after a relevant period of leave, including maternity leave, adoption leave and shared parental leave.
“If that were to happen, the expressed policy behind this legislation would be to extend the protection already given to women on those relevant periods of leave by the 1999 Maternity & Parental Leave Regulations.
“So what? The new Regulations would likely impose on an employer the obligation to offer to the extended group of protected women a suitable alternative vacancy where one exists, when undergoing a redundancy selection program. It does not prevent such women from being made redundant.”
April added that a number of complex issues still needed to be addressed, such as whether women who miscarry before informing their employer they are pregnant would be covered, and what happens if an employee wants to add annual or other leave to their maternity, adoption and shared parental leave.
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