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Pregnancy still means the sack for thousands, says CAB

21 March 2001 - A report from the National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux (NACAB) claims that thousands of working parents will not benefit from improved maternity and parental rights because employers are ignoring legislation. In fact tens of thousands of women are being sacked illegally or threatened with dismissal simply because they are pregnant.

NACAB is strongly in favour of Government proposals to improve maternity leave and introduce two weeks’ paid paternity leave. But it says that the Government is ignoring the extent to which existing benefits are flouted by employers. The report is based on case evidence provided by Citizens Advice Bureaux throughout England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Pregnant women who are dismissed are often asked to resign or work reduced hours. They may also be denied their right to time off to attend ante-natal appointments or the right to return to the same job after maternity leave. Women returners frequently find that their job has changed, or hours and pay have been cut. Men are often advised (by employers) that there is no right to parental leave - or that it does not apply in their organization.

Most of the employees who deny their rights are low-skilled and low paid jobs, usually employed by small businesses. Denial of these rights is often part of a pattern where other rights such as paid holidays, sick pay and proper rest periods or breaks are also not given.

Examples of case studies include:

* A pregnant shop worker dismissed on the grounds that pregnant women are not an attractive sight to customers.

* A nursery employee sacked just before she was due to start her maternity leave. She had been employed for 2 years on less than the minimum wage - and the employer illegally docked her wages for time off taken to attend ante natal appointments.

* A woman was contacted on maternity leave and told that her job had been filled and that there was no job for her, regardless of her leal rights.

* Another sales assistant returned to the full-time job she had held for seven years after maternity leave and discovered that her working hours were reduced to three days a week and that her pay had been cut by 35 pence an hour.

Often women do not know their rights or how to enforce them. If they are aware of their legal rights, many are afraid of confronting their employers anticipating victimisation or loss of their jobs. The 'dauntingly adversarial nature of the employment tribunal system' puts dismissed women off taking action - plus, of course pregnant women and new parents have a great deal else to be anxious about at a time when life is particularly demanding and stressful. And if they are successful at a tribunal, compensation levels are low and they will still be out of work.

NACAB proposes a dedicated employment rights agency - or Fair Employment Commission - to be founded with the following tasks and powers:

- pro-active enforcement of a range of basic rights at work;
provision of advice, guidance and specialist business support to those employers facing the greatest challenge in meeting their statutory duties to their workforce;
- powers to investigate individual and anonymous complaints, carry out random checks and impose fines.

The report also recommends establishing a statutory right for both mothers and fathers to work ‘child-friendly’ hours after the birth or adoption of a child.

NACAB Chief Executive David Harker commented:

"The Government’s green paper contains an even-handed and informed analysis of the many problems working parents face in balancing work, family life and other commitments, as well as of the difficulties some employers face in managing maternity and parental leave absences.

"There is no doubt that putting most of the Government’s proposals into practice would make a huge difference to the work-life balance of working parents and to the well-being and development of their children. But additional rights will be worthless to many unless the problem of enforcement is tackled, and there is real, practical assistance for small employers.

"The single most important step the Government could now take in this area would be to establish a vigorously pro-active employment rights advice and enforcement agency or Fair Employment Commission charged with making the current good practice of a few employers the standard practice of all."

5 April 2001 - Julie Mellor, Chair of the EOC, said:

"Last year the EOC received more than 1400 complaints and enquiries about pregnancy and maternity issues at work, and more than 200 of those related specifically to pregnancy dismissal. It is appalling that women are still today being victimised for being pregnant. The new EOC Pregnancy and Maternity advice site will provide a helpful and informative first point of call for all women seeking advice on their pregnancy and maternity rights ".

The site is intended to:

* Inform pregnant women of their rights
* Offer answers to commonly asked questions on pregnancy and maternity related discrimination at work
* List key legal decisions
* Detail the Laws which give pregnant employees rights
* Provide guidance on how to take a case forward

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