Recessions typically place the most vulnerable within our workforce at greater risk of discrimination. It is therefore encouraging to see the reintroduction of the Pregnancy and Maternity Redundancy Protection Bill, a private member’s bill that has attracted cross-party backing. The Bill proposes to add weight to current legislation by prohibiting employers from making pregnant women and new mothers redundant whilst on maternity leave and for a period of six months from return, except in a small number of specified circumstances.
Covid-19 has unfortunately thrown this issue into the spotlight, with reports of many women on, or due to start, maternity leave losing their jobs or being threatened with redundancy.
The pandemic has shone a light on the vulnerability of women, who have been found to make up a large proportion of the workforce in the hardest hit areas of the economy, such as hospitality, tourism and the arts.
A report by the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) has warned of the potential for “lasting harm” to women’s careers as a result of lockdown, reporting that mothers are almost 50% more likely to lose their jobs during the crisis than fathers.
The current situation has highlighted an urgent need to review the current laws on maternity and redundancy, which are complex. Many women are unclear about their rights and employers are often all too aware of the loopholes.
The chair of the Women and Equalities Committee, former cabinet minister Maria Miller MP, is behind the move to introduce new legislation to protect pregnant women and mothers. Her bill has passed the first hurdle and has a great deal of support within government and the opposition, as well as from campaign groups.
It is important for two reasons; firstly, because we must not allow women to become disproportionately affected by or discriminated against because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. Secondly, the state of the economy must not be allowed to throw our equality agendas off course, which means a concerted effort will be needed to continue to push for greater representation of women in senior roles and, indeed, at board level.