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Pregnancy and Maternity Discrimination

Volume 600: debated on Thursday 15 October 2015

Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful and completely unacceptable. The Government and the Equality and Human Rights Commission are working together on the largest independent research project of its kind in Great Britain to better understand the problem. The detail of the final report is due to be published later this year and will inform the Government’s response.

Many women across Salford and Eccles have returned to work after maternity leave with a very uneasy feeling about whether they have a job. The report to which the right hon. Lady refers has found that women returning from maternity leave are even more likely to face discrimination in the workplace than they were a decade ago. What assurances can she offer people in Salford and Eccles that this will not be the case in generations to come?

It is true that when the interim report was published in July this year, we were all disappointed to see that around one in eight women reported that they felt they had to leave work as a result of their pregnancy or maternity leave, but it also shows that the vast majority of employers believe it is important to support pregnant women and women on maternity leave, so we have to build on that. That is why the report will be so helpful in working out exactly what our response should be to make sure that we change this, as the hon. Lady says, not in decades but in a few years ahead.

Will the Minister join me in welcoming the work done by Joeli Brearley of Pregnant then Screwed, a Greater Manchester-based organisation campaigning to raise awareness of the appalling examples of discrimination in the workplace? More importantly, will the Minister pledge to work with organisations such as Pregnant then Screwed to help tackle this inequality in the workplace?

I look forward to hearing more about the work that Joeli Brearley has been doing. As I mentioned earlier, we expect the report this year to tell us the types of issues that women face, the perceived discrimination where it is occurring, who is most at risk and which employers in terms of size and sectors are most likely to get complaints. I will then be open to working with all organisations to tackle that discrimination. If the hon. Lady would like to write to me with further details about her constituency organisation, I would be delighted to see them.

Unlawful maternity and pregnancy discrimination is now more common in Britain’s workplaces than ever before. One in nine women are forced out of their jobs as a result of discrimination in the workplace. In July 2013 the UK Government introduced employment tribunal fees of up to £1,200, amounting to a barrier for women and a charter for rogue employers. What action is the Minister taking to tackle this issue?

Before answering the hon. Lady’s question, may I congratulate her? I understand that she was the winner of the Icon politician of the year award last week for her work. In relation to the fees for employment tribunals, on 11 June this year we announced a post-implementation review of the introduction of fees for employment tribunals. The review is being led by the Ministry of Justice. It is well under way and is due to report later this year. I think we should await the outcome of that review to determine whether current fees or the remission scheme need to be adjusted.

According to research from the Equality and Human Rights Commission, one in nine mothers have lost their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination, yet since the introduction of employment tribunal fees nearly seven in 10 cases that could have gone before tribunals are not going ahead, according to Citizens Advice. Why are the Government giving the green light to employers to discriminate against women?

As I said, I welcome the hon. Lady to her position on the shadow Front Bench, but I disagree with her, which will not surprise her. We are not giving any form of encouragement to employers to discriminate. I mentioned the post-implementation review of the introduction of fees, and I should point out that in order to protect the most vulnerable in society, there is already a system of fee remissions under which fees can be waived in part or in full for those who qualify. It is right to try to divert people away from potentially acrimonious proceedings through a conciliation scheme operated by ACAS, but we should also see where the review leads and what it tells us about fees and their impact.