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    Pregnant women lose their jobs

    An estimated 30,000 working women are dismissed, made redundant or are forced to leave their jobs every year because they become pregnant, a study shows.

    Although it is illegal under sex discrimination legislation to sack a woman because she is pregnant, research by the Equal Opportunities Commission suggests that one in twenty expectant working women faces extreme pressure to leave their jobs as soon as their bosses learn of their pregnancy.

    The research, based on interviews with more than 1,000 new mothers, also found that a fifth of women lose out financially as a result of being pregnant. This can be because their pay is cut or because they are given a lower pay rise than colleagues. In some cases, employers refused to allow them paid time off for antenatal appointments, even though they are entitled to this by law.

    Almost half of all women who worked while pregnant within the past three years had experienced some form of discrimination as a direct consequence of their pregnancy, the Commission concludes.

    Julie Mellow, the commission’s chairwoman, said the findings were shocking. “Women should not be penalised simply for being pregnant. The impact on women, their partners and families, and on the health of their baby can be disastrous,” she said. We need urgent action from the Government to provide more information and support for pregnant employees and their employers.”

    The research reveals the many forms of discrimination faced by the 441,000 women who are pregnant at work each year. These range from denial of promotion, bonuses and training opportunities and changes in job descriptions being left out of decisions and even verbal abuse.

    The survey found that discrimination was worst in the retail sector, where 53 per cent of pregnant women experienced some form of discrimination, and best in the financial services sector, where 42 per cent of women were affected.

    Although manual workers were hardest hit, 46 per cent of women at a managerial or professional level were also affected. The commission called on Government to provide a written statement of maternity rights and employer responsibilities to every pregnant women, with a tear-off section for her employer. It is also recommended that the Government give employers a “right to request” that employees indicated their planned return date much earlier during maternity leave than they do at present. As thing stand, new mothers are required to give 28 days’ notice of their return to work.

    Peter Firth, of the Federation of Small Businesses and a member of Equal Opportunities Commission’s pregnancy taskforce, said he thought mothers on maternity leave should update their employer monthly on whether and when they intended to return to work.

    Statutory maternity pay should be paid directly to mothers by the Government and not routed via employers, he said. “The reality is that mothers and pregnant women can experience discrimination in the workplace. But employers find administering maternity rights a headache,” he added.

    John Morely Koukoulas, 23 was five months pregnant when she was told to clear up smouldering debris at the petrol station where she worked. Suffering from the fumes created by the fire, she decided that she had no future with her employer. “They should have had specialist cleaners in to do the job. I refused to do it and I was extremely upset,” she said.

    When she had told her employer of the pregnancy, the risk assessment promised in the employee handbook never materialised. They did not even supply a bigger uniform. “When I turned up in my own clothes, I was told off,” she said. A request to transfer to a less physical job was refused.

    “My doctor signed me off sick and I never went back. It should have been the happiest time of my life. Instead, my employer took away all the joy of my pregnancy and left me without a job,” Ms Koukoulas, who now has a son.

    “The Times”: 2.2.05