Major UK firms act to end 'discrimination scandal' for new mums

54,000 women in U.K. lose their jobs every year due to pregnancy discrimination: Parliamentarian
By Emma Batha
||Last Updated: 09/28/2018
Jo Swinson, the deputy leader of Britain's Liberal Democrats attends the announcement of her appointment in London, July 20, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall

LONDON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Ten big British employers have agreed to publish their parental leave and pay policies, a lawmaker announced on Thursday as she demanded an end to the "scandal" of discrimination against pregnant women and new parents.

Parliamentarian Jo Swinson, who is spearheading a campaign for greater transparency, said getting companies to publish their policies meant no one would have to ask the question in a job interview, potentially scuppering their chances.

Swinson, who is herself on maternity leave, said there was a "massive problem" with pregnancy discrimination in Britain with 54,000 women losing their jobs every year.

"It is a scandal, it is a disgrace," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

"Still far too many employers feel it is acceptable to get away with pregnancy discrimination."

The companies, representing more than 160,000 employees, include accounting and consultancy firms Deloitte, KPMG and PwC, banks RBS and Santander, and law firm Linklaters.

Swinson, deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats party, called for others to follow suit.

The campaign comes as a new study shows one in five employers admit that a woman's promotion chances are impacted if she is pregnant or has children, and one in eight say women are taken less seriously when they return from maternity leave.

The charity Young Women's Trust, which commissioned the poll, said the discrimination was "shocking." In another survey by the charity, 43 percent of young mothers reported facing maternity discrimination.

Swinson said protecting parental leave rights was crucial for the health and wellbeing of the next generation, allowing mothers to recover from birth, bond with their babies and breastfeed.

Companies' lack of transparency also deterred men from asking for parental leave or flexible working, she added.

Swinson, who recently made history by becoming the first lawmaker to take her baby to a parliamentary debate, said employers must help parents balance work and family responsibilities.

The former business minister said strong parental leave policies were also good for the economy.

"If people feel the only option is that they have to leave the labor market then that's got a really negative impact on the entire economy," she added.

She expressed hope the fact that many of the 10 companies were international could spur change elsewhere.

"What we do here ... can be a catalyst for change more widely," she said.

Britain's government agreed last month to publish parental leave details for all its departments.

Swinson is pursuing a Private Member's Bill to require all organizations with more than 250 employees to publish details of their policies.

Rosalind Bragg, director of charity Maternity Action, said unfair and unlawful treatment of pregnant women and new mothers was a major problem.

"More needs to be done to shine a light on poor employer practice," she added. 

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