Pregnant women and women who have recently had children are facing intensified discrimination during the coronavirus crisis.
It’s a powerful example of the attacks on worker that are being carried out under the cover of “a time of emergency”.
A new report from the TUC union federation found that one in four pregnant women and new mothers have experienced unfair treatment or discrimination at work. Examples include being singled out for redundancy or furlough.
One pregnant woman said, “I was the only one being singled out and threatened with furlough. It’s only after HR got involved that they offered me an alternative solution and then my team leader changed her attitude towards me.”
Another added, “I feel like I either won’t have a job to come back to or when I do come back the role will be of lower respect within the company.”
Pregnant women’s health and safety rights are being routinely disregarded, leaving women feeling unsafe at work or without pay when they are unable to attend their workplaces.
Low paid women face the worse treatment. In the survey, they were almost twice as likely as women on median to high incomes to have lost pay and or been forced to stop work.
Some have been pushed to take sick leave when they were not sick. Others have taken unpaid leave, started their maternity leave early or leave the workplace altogether because of unaddressed health and safety concerns.
The discrimination is sharpest for black and Asian women, young women and disabled women. One disabled woman said, “My employer did not listen to my concerns around health and safety and made working there extremely difficult.
“I am epileptic and my seizures got significantly worse and my employer refused to put things in place to protect me and my baby.”
In addition nearly three quarters of new mothers planning to return to work in the next three months are currently unable to find childcare.
Responding to the survey, Rehana Azam, national secretary of the GMB union, said, “The findings are shocking but come as no surprise to GMB.
“Discrimination against pregnant employees and working mums is nothing new—and is not a result of the Covid-19 outbreak.
“It’s completely unacceptable to GMB and should be similarly unacceptable to ministers and business alike.”
As with so many of the reports produced by unions during the last few months, this one is strong on the outrageous way that employers are acting. But it is weak on the actions that will be needed to win change.
The TUC calls for measures including changes to health and safety practices and an extension of the job retention scheme for parents who cannot find childcare. It also demands an increase in protection for casual, agency and zero-hours workers.
But none of these will be implement without struggle, particularly by employers who have seen their profits squeezed during lockdown. This is why the TUC’s preference for “social partnership” with firms is so dangerous. Without a battle, the sort of practices it details will continue—and worsen.