A crusade to stop employers laying off more women than men during the recession has begun to prevent those facing redundancy becoming victims of discrimination.
Equality minister Harriet Harman has warned organisations not to use the credit crunch as an excuse to unnecessarily let go of female workers, associated with costly maternity leave and flexible working packages, in a bid to cut costs.
“There is a major fear about women being targeted by their employers during the downturn. This is unlawful,” Harman told The Sunday Times.
The anxiety comes after last week’s employment figures showed the number of women in full time work fell by 53,000 in the three months to November 2008. The number of men in work fell by 36,000.
An employment expert has also warned women could be denied access to jobs during the downturn. Sarah Turner, employment law partner at Turner Parkinson law firm, said: “Recent years have brought a huge increase in family friendly rights available to employees such as enhanced maternity rights, flexible working and parental leave.
“Many employers view these rights as a considerable expense and disruption to the business. Given that many still perceive women as the primary child carers, this may lead to women losing out to men on recruitment.”
Harman and Vera Baird, the solicitor-general, have warned prime minister Gordon Brown to introduce new measures to protect the female workforce.
These include the possibility of monitoring companies to check women are not being unfairly targeted, and new training for women to help find jobs.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission may also launch an inquiry into some of the worst offending sectors, including the finance sector.