Pregnancy discrimination increasing in the UK

As more British women lose their jobs for becoming mothers, an alliance forms to fight back.

By Kate Harding

Published June 5, 2009 5:06PM (EDT)

According to the UK Equality and Human Rights Commission, an estimated 30,000 British women lose their jobs because of pregnancy each year, and with a recession hitting, it's only getting worse. The Guardian reports today that a newly launched coalition of support service organizations, the Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination in the Workplace, says: "The number of pregnant women and new mothers losing their jobs has shown an 'alarming' rise as employers target them for redundancy ahead of childless colleagues."

Camilla Palmer, a lawyer with Alliance member Leigh Day & Co., said the firm was receiving so many calls from women who have been fired during pregnancy or new motherhood, it had to set up a hotline last month to handle them. Rosalind Bragg of Maternity Action also reports "a huge increase" in inquiries about women's legal rights regarding pregnancy discrimination. And Elizabeth Gardiner, parliamentary policy officer at Working Families, says, "Our helpline advisers say that the most common form of discrimination used to be snide comments or low-level insidious undermining of women who work part-time; now the way that the discrimination manifests itself is much more serious. Employers seem much more willing to flout the law."

The Alliance Against Pregnancy Discrimination explains in campaign materials why it's actually in employers' economic self-interest to abide by the laws regarding pregnancy and maternity leave: "Good employers recognise the economic cost of discrimination which reduces the pool of talent from which they recruit and means they lose valuable, experienced staff. Discriminatory practices also expose employers to the risk of legal action, with no limit on the compensation they could have to pay." But that doesn't stop some people -- including business secretary Lord Mandleson -- from seeing the laws as a "burden on businesses." Never mind that, as the Alliance points out, "long-term consequences of job loss as a result of pregnancy or maternity leave jeopardise women's financial security for their whole lives." Clearly, it's women and their pesky uteruses who are a burden on hardworking business owners, not sexist, shortsighted penny pinchers who are a burden on women and families.


Kate Harding

Kate Harding is the author of Asking For It: The Alarming Rise of Rape Culture--and What We Can Do About It, available from Da Capo Press in August 2015. Previously, she collaborated with Anna Holmes, Amanda Hess, and a cast of thousands on The Book of Jezebel, and with Marianne Kirby on Lessons from the Fat-o-Sphere. You might also remember her as the founding editor of Shapely Prose (2007-2010). Kate's essays have appeared in the anthologies Madonna & Me, Yes Means Yes, Feed Me, and Airmail: Women of Letters. She holds an M.F.A. in fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts and a B.A. in English from University of Toronto, and is currently at work on a Ph.D. in creative writing from Bath Spa University

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