Amid continuing uncertainty around the Government’s Modern Workplaces proposals for reform of maternity and paternity rights at work, and continuing media reports of an increase in the number of pregnant women and new mothers being forced out of work, the leading maternity rights group Maternity Action has this week launched a major campaign to defend maternity rights and protect maternity services.
The Valuing Maternity campaign – which is supported by a wide range of organisations, trade unions and campaign groups including the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG), the Fawcett Society, the Mothers’ Union, the Royal College of Midwives, the TUC, Working Families, and Citizens Advice – has three key demands:
- Job security for all women during pregnancy and maternity;
- Maternity and parental leave that promotes real equality; and
- Services to support a safe and healthy pregnancy.
The campaign notes that ‘pregnant women and new mothers are facing a tough time in the recession. Maternity benefits have been cut or means tested. Public criticism of maternity rights has given employers the confidence to treat women badly. The laws which should protect women’s jobs are being flouted. Changing maternity leave arrangements may put pressure on women to return to work early. Funding cuts are reducing services for mothers and babies at a time when the number of births is growing.’
‘We need the Government to champion pregnant women and new mothers, not make life more difficult. Don’t introduce a new maternity and parental leave scheme which reduces rights for women, reduces family incomes and which few fathers will take-up. Start pulling employers into line when they do the wrong thing by pregnant women and new mothers. Stop cuts to NHS maternity services, and services for families. Pregnant women and new mothers are carrying the burden of the recession. That’s not right. It is time we started valuing maternity.’
Campaign materials include briefings on how pregnant women and new mothers are being squeezed out of the workforce, on how maternity, paternity and parental leave should be designed to promote shared parenting and real equality, and how NHS should be tailored to support safe and healthy pregnancies. The campaign website includes a ‘tell your story’ facility, and a questionnaire survey to rate your own employer’s policies and practice.
Let’s hope that ministers take note of the campaign and its broad supporter base, and that they drop their misguided proposal to reduce the amount of their proposed shared parental leave that is earmarked as ‘maternity leave’ to just 18 weeks.
Richard Dunstan is a policy wonk who has worked for Citizens Advice, the National Audit Office, the Law Society, and Amnesty International UK.