Threats to some key women’s workplace rights

What is the problem?

While Government has made positive moves on some fronts, in particular with plans to reform the parental leave system and extend the right to request to flexible working to all employees, we have seen potentially dangerous policy proposals progressed at a rapid rate, many of which could threaten women’s precarious foothold in the labour market.

For example, Government’s recent Employee Shareholder (ES) proposals offer employees the chance to forfeit certain basic rights, such as flexible working, for shares in the company. Fawcett is extremely concerned that ES proposals will make it harder still for women to find and stay in jobs.

The ES proposals are likely to impact negatively and disproportionately on women’s existing workplace rights as proposals may inadvertently encourage discriminatory behaviour in the recruitment process for women, who are more likely to exercise the rights that will be waived.

We have also seen the introduction of fees to employment tribunals which will impact on women’s access to justice. From 2013, women taking a pregnancy discrimination claim to an employment tribunal will face fees of £1,200, which will prevent a large number of women from seeking to uphold their rights and curtail women’s access to justice.

Furthermore, the Government has decided to remove the questionnaire procedure in discrimination claims. This will reduce women’s capacity to determine the likelihood of their claim succeeding and further deter them from pursuing formal action.

Proposals like these are likely to have a negative impact on women’s ability to find work, their career progression and on business’ access to the widest talent pool available. Women may also find it harder to challenge discrimination they experience,

Download our briefings to the right to find out more about Fawcett’s position on threats to women’s workplace rights.

Why does it matter?

In times of austerity, when employers cannot afford to take any perceived risks to profits and growing business, discrimination against women in the workplace is likely to rise as women, appear to be the riskier and less affordable choice for employers. Employment rights are needed to protect women against discrimination in the workplace, which many routinely face.

Moreover, by not supporting women to find and stay in jobs, we’re missing a trick; women are half of businesses’ available talent pool and are vital to the nation’s economic recovery.

What do we want to see happen?

Even before the recession began, it was estimated that up to 30,000 women had lost their jobs due to pregnancy discrimination. There has been no national research into the incidence of pregnancy discrimination following the economic downturn, but all the indications are that it has increased significantly. Fawcett believes the Government should undertake an inquiry into pregnancy discrimination in order to systematically collect and monitor relevant data, and to identify patterns and frequency of discrimination against women in the workplace.

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