New mothers are facing increasing discrimination when they take maternity leave including being made redundant and switched to zero-hours contracts.
Citizens Advice has recorded a nearly 60 percent rise in the number of women seeking advice about maternity leave issues this year. Just over 3,300 came to the charity with such issues in the year to June compared to 2,099 last year.
Citizens Advice says the introduction of fees for employment tribunals, through which workers can challenge poor treatment, has combined with the rise of zero-hours contracts, agency work and multiple part-time jobs to make employees more vulnerable to sharp practice on maternity rights.
Legally, women are protected from losing their job, having their hours changed or their responsibility reduced as a result of pregnancy. While employment and sex discrimination legislation offers protection, responsibility for enforcing such employment rights is spread across a wide range of agencies, from HMRC to the Gangmasters and Labour Abuse Authority, said Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice.
“This confusing landscape means some bad bosses are getting away with treating their employees unfairly,” Guy said. “There is an opportunity for the government to consider bringing together the expertise of all current labour market enforcement functions into one well-resourced, effective body to investigate bad practice.”
Citizens Advice said the most common issue it dealt with in relation to maternity leave was being made redundant followed by a reduction in hours, including being moved to a zero-hours contract and having a role changed upon return to work.
The research by Citizens Advice supports the findings of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission into maternity discrimination published last year.
The study estimated that around 54,000 new mothers are losing their jobs across Britain every year – almost twice the number identified in similar research undertaken in 2005.
It also found that 10 percent of women were discouraged from attending antenatal appointments by their employers, putting the health of mother and baby at risk.