Redundancy protection: joint letter to Secretary of State for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy (BEIS)

Date Posted: Thursday 11th February 2021

Dear Secretary of State,

Redundancy protection: pregnant women and new mothers

We are writing to urge you to act swiftly on the Women & Equalities Committee’s recommendation, in its report published on 9 February – that the Government “introduce legislation in this Parliamentary session to extend redundancy protection to pregnant women and new mothers” – by adopting Maria Miller’s Pregnancy & Maternity (Redundancy Protection) Bill, introduced in July last year, and expediting it through Parliament using Government time.

In its report, the Committee concludes:

“We are gravely concerned by evidence detailing potentially unlawful and discriminatory practices towards pregnant women and those on maternity leave during the pandemic. This should have been better anticipated by the Government at the beginning of the pandemic, and preventative actions taken. It cannot be allowed to continue. The Government must act now to prevent further discrimination, particularly as we enter a time of potentially unprecedented job losses, to which pregnant women and new mothers may be particularly vulnerable.”

The Government has stated that it plans to extend the period covered by the existing, so-called Regulation 10 protections for women on maternity leave in its promised but still awaited Employment Bill. However, as Mrs Miller noted when introducing her Bill on 8 July, extending the period covered by those provisions “would simply entrench a system that we know does not work”. For we know that, due to the uncertainty of success and the substantial financial cost of bringing an employment tribunal claim for breach of Regulation 10, very few women do so. Those legal costs can easily exceed £10,000, and in 2019/20 the median tribunal award for sex discrimination was just £14,073. In short, women do the maths.

This leaves employers free to ignore or evade their obligations under Regulation 10 with near impunity. And simply extending the period for which Regulation 10 applies, so as to cover from pregnancy to six months after return to work, as the Government plans to do, would not address this fundamental flaw.

As you know, Mrs Miller’s Bill would replace these ineffective legal provisions with a new legal framework, also covering from pregnancy to six months after return to work, under which it would be unlawful to make a pregnant woman or new mother redundant, other than in very limited and specified circumstances, such as the closure of the business. And, by ensuring near certainty of success for any subsequent – thereby less costly – employment tribunal claim, this would create a strong disincentive to discriminatory practice by employers.

In addition to the 21 co-signatories of this letter, Mrs Miller’s Bill is supported by the Equality & Human Rights Commission, and by the College of Podiatry, the Fire Brigades Union, the FDA, the Public & Commercial Services union (PCS), and Usdaw. The Bill is short and, as illustrated by the Ministerial & Other Maternity Allowances Bill, the Government is perfectly able to expedite such Bills through Parliament when it recognises a need to do so.

Accordingly, we hope that you and Cabinet colleagues will now act swiftly upon the recommendation of the Women & Equalities Committee, by adopting Mrs Miller’s Bill as your own and speeding it into law.

Yours faithfully,

Ros Bragg, Director, Maternity Action

Mick Whelan ,General Secretary, ASLEF

Karen Middleton CBE, Chief Executive, Chartered Society of Physiotherapy

Lauren Crowley, Head of Equalities, Community

Ali Harris, Chief Executive Officer, Equally Ours

Felicia Willow, Interim CEO, The Fawcett Society

Victoria Benson, Chief Executive, Gingerbread

Julie Bishop, Director, Law Centres Network

Angela McConville, Chief Executive, NCT

Dr Mary Bousted & Kevin Courtney, Joint General Secretaries, National Education Union

Joeli Brearley, Founder & CEO, Pregnant Then Screwed

Gill Walton, Chief Executive, Royal College of Midwives

Mick Cash, General Secretary, RMT

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary, TUC

Christina McAnea, General Secretary, UNISON

Diana Holland, Assistant General Secretary (Equalities), Unite the union

Dr Jo Grady, General Secretary, University & College Union

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

Jane van Zyl, Chief Executive Officer, Working Families

Karen Teago, Chief Executive Officer, YESS Law

Joe Levenson, Director of Communications & Campaigns, Young Women’s Trust