Our letter asking for Alok Sharma’s support for the Pregnancy and Maternity (Redundancy Protection Bill)

Date Posted: Tuesday 30th June 2020

The Rt Hon Alok Sharma, MP
Secretary of State
Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy 1 Victoria Street, London SW1H 0ET

Dear Secretary of State,

We are writing to urge you and Cabinet colleagues to support and adopt as your own the Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill that Maria Miller MP is set to introduce in the House of Commons on 8 July.

In 2016, Government-commissioned research by the Equality & Human Rights Commission found that three in four women have a negative or possibly discriminatory experience during pregnancy or maternity leave, or on return to work, with almost one in ten being forced out of their job. And, in response, the Women & Equalities Committee recommended that the Government act to strengthen the legal protection against unfair redundancy for new and expectant mothers.

Nearly four years on, it is deeply disappointing that the Government has still not acted on the Committee’s recommendation, despite having accepted the case for legal reform as long ago as January 2017. For, as with the post-2008 economic recession, there is good reason to fear that transition from the COVID19 lockdown will generate a new wave of unfair redundancies and unlawful discrimination as businesses and organisations adjust to the new economic circumstances. A recent survey by the TUC found that more than one in four pregnant women have experienced discrimination or unfair treatment at work since the COVID19 crisis began, including being unfairly singled out for redundancy.

Fortunately, on 8 July, the Government has an opportunity to ready the legal framework for such an eventuality, when Maria Miller introduces her Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill. This would replace the existing, wholly inadequate legal protection against redundancy for pregnant women and new mothers with a new framework, similar to that used in Germany, under which such women can be made redundant only in very limited (and specified) circumstances.

The Government has stated its intention to include an extension of the existing, so-called Regulation 10 protection against redundancy in the Employment Bill announced in December’s Queen’s Speech. However, it is now clear that there is little if any chance of that Bill reaching the Statute Book until next year. That will be too late.

Moreover, in our view the protection supposedly offered by Regulation 10 is woefully inadequate, with employers able to simply ignore the law, safe in the knowledge that, having just given birth or been away from the workplace for up to a year, a woman is unlikely to challenge an unfair redundancy by bringing an employment tribunal claim.

Not only is proving such a claim notoriously difficult, as the failure to comply with Regulation 10 is rarely made explicit, but the associated legal costs can easily exceed £10,000. For all too many women, it is simply not worth the risk to pursue such a costly legal challenge, so they have no option but to accept the unfair redundancy. This leaves employers free to ignore or avoid their legal obligations under Regulation 10 with near impunity. And simply extending the period for which Regulation 10 applies would not address this fundamental flaw.

Given the likelihood of a new wave of discrimination and unfair redundancies, we hope that you and Cabinet colleagues will now accept the need to go further than planned, adopt Maria Miller’s Bill as your own, and implement its comprehensive legal ban on making pregnant women and new mothers redundant, other than in very limited and specified circumstances, before the Summer recess. This would take the onus off women to challenge their employer, and make it much harder for employers to discriminate in the first place. With record numbers of women in the workforce, such reform is now crucial both to equality, and to economic recovery.

Yours faithfully,

Rosalind Bragg, Director, Maternity Action

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society

Joeli Brearley, Founder, Pregnant Then Screwed

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive, Working Families

Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, Women’s Budget Group

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive, Gingerbread

Sophie Walker, Chief Executive, Young Women’s Trust

Dave Prentis, General Secretary, UNISON

Dr Mary Bousted, Joint General Secretary, National Education Union

Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary, University & College Union

Paddy Lillis, General Secretary, Usdaw