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The BBC's James Westhead
says most women do not complain about discrimination because court processes can take years
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Head of equal rights at the TUC Kay Carberry
"Many employers ignore their obligations"
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Wednesday, 21 March, 2001, 13:42 GMT
Mothers 'missing out on maternity rights'
Pregnant women can face discrimination at work
Pregnant women can face discrimination at work
Tens of thousands of women are illegally sacked or threatened with dismissal because they are pregnant, according to a Citizen's Advice Bureaux report.

Birth Rights, compiled by the National Association of CABs (NACAB), suggests thousands of parents miss out on employment benefits.

NACAB said that many mothers and fathers were unlikely to benefit from the government's decision, announced in the Budget, to extend maternity and paternity rights.

Case study
A mother-to-be who worked in a shop was sacked because "a pregnant woman is not an attractive sight to customers"
The proposals, also outlined in a green paper, would enhance maternity leave and give new fathers two weeks paid paternity leave.

The NACAB says employers are failing to offer existing statutory provisions, through ignorance, worry over their effect on the business, or in a few cases, deliberately.

The NACAB is now calling for a Fair Employment Commission, which could ensure parents received their rights, and that employers had the support they needed.

It is also calling for a statutory right for new parents to work "child-friendly" hours after the birth of a child or an adoption.

Low paid

Many of the new parents who miss out on their rights are in low-paid and low-skilled jobs and work for small companies.

Caroline Kelly, 26, was four months pregnant when she lost her job.

Caroline Kelly: sacked while pregnant
Caroline Kelly: sacked while pregnant
"I was called into the office and told I was being made redundant."

She is now taking the company to an employment tribunal.

The report's author, Richard Dunstan, told BBC News Online that the 2,000 CAB offices in England, Wales and Northern Ireland had heard of about 40,000 cases of maternity related employment rights concerns, around two thirds of which are pregnancy related.

He said the CABs believe 100,000 women across the UK are being denied maternity rights.

He added small businesses were often worst affected, and estimated a company of 10 people may only have to deal with a pregnancy among its staff once every 10 years.

"A common problem with a lot of statutory employment rights is that the law says what employees should get, but employers are not providing it."

He added: "Clearly the cases we have seen are the tip of the iceberg."

Richard Dunstan: 'This is just the tip of the iceberg
Richard Dunstan: 'This is just the tip of the iceberg"
Even when pregnant women are not sacked, the report says they often have to cut back the number of hours they work, and cannot take the time off needed to attend ante-natal appointments.

Women are often also unable to return to the job they previously had, after maternity leave.

If they are allowed to return, new mothers often find their job has changed, or their hours and pay have been cut.

Men fare little better. They are often told they have no right to parental leave, or that the rules do not apply to their company.

Employees are often unaware of their rights. And those who do may be reluctant to tackle their employer and even more reluctant to take their complaint to an employment tribunal, which can be protracted and pressured.

The financial gains for winners can also be quite small.

'Tackle enforcement'

David Harker, NACAB chief executive, said: "There is no doubt that putting most of the government's proposals into practice would make a huge difference to the work-life balance of working parents and to the well-being and development of their children.

"But additional rights will be worthless to many unless the problem of enforcement is tackled, and there is real, practical assistance for small employers."

Kay Carberry, head of equal rights at the TUC, said: "One of the problems is that women themselves do not know what their rights are.

"And in many cases, employers simply ignore their obligations to their employees.

"Something should be done to raise women's awareness of what their rights are."

She said the unions, CABs and the TUC and Equal Opportunities Commission were all there to offer help.

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See also:

07 Mar 01 | Budget 2001
Brown's 'families first' Budget
07 Dec 00 | UK Politics
Paid paternity leave on the cards
15 Feb 01 | UK Politics
Minister takes maternity leave
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