Maternity and Paternity Rights

What’s the situation?

Maternity rights and employment rights that allow parents to balance work and family responsibilities have been key drivers in giving women greater access to work and an independent income.

Yet there is still far to go. Our workplaces have not adapted to meet the needs of this changing and gender diverse workforce. Women pay a penalty in the workplace as a result of spending time away from the labour market to have and care for children, and this time away often negatively affects future career prospects and earnings in the labour market.

This ‘motherhood penalty’ helps holds the glass ceiling intact. It reproduces gender stereotypes about women as the ‘caring sex’ that fuel occupational segregation – jobs being characterized as men’s or women’s work. For too many women, it still culminates in pregnancy discrimination in the workplace.

Even before the recession began, it was estimated that up to 30,000 women had lost their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination. In times of austerity, when employers cannot afford to take any perceived risk to making profit and growing business, discrimination against women in the workplace is likely to rise as women, particularly of child bearing age, appear to be the riskier and less affordable choice for employers.

At the same time, the current maternity/paternity leave and pay system restricts fathers’ and partners’ opportunities to spend more time with their families. It disincentivises the main breadwinner, in most cases still the father in heterosexual couples, taking on a role as primary or equal carer.  Many fathers want more time to spend with their families but outdated working patterns deny them the opportunity.

Why does it matter?

If women and men are to have truly free choices about sharing responsibilities for working and caring, we need a significant culture change in the workplace and reforms in order to enable this.

It is important that we move towards greater shared parenting because women’s disproportionate caring responsibilities are a key factor in the discrimination faced by women at work.

There are benefits for women, families and the economy by enabling better rights for fathers in terms of parental leave and pay. For example, a study published by the Swedish Institute of Labour Market Policy Evaluation in March 2010 showed that a mother’s future earnings increase on average 7 per cent for every month the father takes leave. This is compelling evidence that such a move might improve women’s pay prospects in the UK.

Moreover, an increase in take up of paternity/shared parental leave by fathers has the potential to dismantle the ‘motherhood penalty’ and to redress the high rates of pregnancy discrimination which force a significant number of women out of the workforce. Fathers’ involvement in the earliest stages of pregnancy has demonstrable improvements in bonding and a greater likelihood of fathers being involved later on in childcare. Fathers want to care more for their children but their choices are constrained by the current system, in particular the low levels of pay related to statutory paternity pay.

What do we want to see happen?

Fawcett has long been campaigning for reforms to the parental leave system that deliver more flexibility for families and enable women more choice over their work and caring responsibilities.

Fawcett works in partnership with the Working Parents coalition, which includes Working Families (Chair), Maternity Action, TUC, The Fatherhood Institute, Mothers’ Union, Single Parent Action Network, CPAG, 4Children, Family and Parenting Institute, Family Lives, Grandparents Plus, Gingerbread. We campaign collaboratively on workplace rights issues, highlighting the impact of such issues on women’s equality in the workplace.

We have over the last 2 years been working with Government to shape proposals for reforms to the current maternity/paternity leave/pay system. We are currently lobbying on the Children and Families Bill, which is being debated in Parliament, to improve proposals as they stand and to see this new parental leave system implemented. We want to see:

–          A parental leave system that offers families flexibility and choice around how to share their leave and caring responsibilities;

–          Time off  that is exclusive to  fathers/partners set at a minimum of 4 weeks;

–          Adequate pay that allows families to take leave;

–           Paternity and shared parental leave as a day one employment right;

–          Strong employment rights that protect women’s jobs when on maternity/parental leave; and,

–          The right to request flexible working should be a day one employment right in order to improve access to flexible jobs and support more women into work.

Download our parliamentary briefing to find out more about Fawcett’s position on the issue

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