Bill to extend maternity protections passes in House of Commons

<span>Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA</span>
Photograph: Andrew Matthews/PA

A push to secure better protection from maternity discrimination has taken a step forward, after a bill extending maternity protections passed its final stage in the House of Commons.

A private member’s bill led by Labour’s Dan Jarvis, which passed its final reading in the House of Commons on Friday, would prevent companies from making women redundant from the moment she discloses her pregnancy until her child is 18 months old.

Currently women are protected from redundancy only while on maternity or parental leave, and at least 54,000 women a year are pushed out of the workforce after becoming pregnant, according to a study by the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Women who are illegally discriminated against often struggle to bring cases against their employers because of a number of barriers.

Jarvis said he had been taken aback when he realised the level of maternity discrimination faced by women, and had been inundated by stories such as that of “Natasha”, who was the only member of staff made redundant from her job in 2020 shortly after she had informed her boss she was pregnant. She then had a miscarriage.

He said: “Stories like these, they are obviously heartbreaking, but they are also deeply unjust and unfair. And they shouldn’t be happening in 2023.”

The protection from redundancy (pregnancy and family leave) bill will have to pass through the Lords, where it is due to be introduced on Monday, before it becomes law. Jarvis said it was likely to get sufficient parliamentary time – barring an early election – to become law.

The bill – on which Jarvis collaborated with Tulip Siddiq – is backed by the government and Labour, and has been promoted by trade unions including Unison and the TUC, organisations such as the Confederation of British Industry and Mumsnet and charities including the Fawcett Society, Pregnant Then Screwed and Maternity Action.

Unison’s general secretary, Christina McAnea, said the bill recognised that the period surrounding maternity leave was fraught with risk for women and their families at a time when they most needed job security.

She said: “Maternity discrimination cases make up much of the union’s legal case load, so this new law can’t come soon enough. This much-needed bill has Unison’s wholehearted support.”

Joeli Brearley, the founder of Pregnant Then Screwed, said the bill was welcome but it had limitations – including the fact that only 1% of women who experience pregnancy or maternity discrimination raise a tribunal claim because of barriers, including a three-month time limit to make a claim.

“Extending protections sounds great in theory, but women are forced to use a dysfunctional tribunal system to access them, and so they give up,” she said. “If the government were serious about giving women greater access to justice, they would have increased the time limit to raise a tribunal claim and invested in the tribunal system so it can better provide adequate and timely justice for claimants.”