Labour would make it illegal to make women redundant during pregnancy and for six months after their return to work, as part of a slew of policies to protect and promote gender equality in the recovery from the pandemic.
The party also called on the government to review the UK’s “failing” shared parental leave policy and to introducing ethnicity pay gap reporting. It has also pledged to modernise equal pay laws to give women the right to know what their male colleagues earn.
Labour is calling for the government to disclose the number of jobs that have been created by schemes such as Kickstart, Restart and Jets by sex, ethnicity and disability.
The move will put pressure on the government to do more to boost equality in the workforce and protect pregnant workers as the end of the furlough scheme draws closer.
Experts have warned that women, who often dominate the industries hardest hit by Covid, are at particular risk when the furlough scheme ends in September, with the Office for Budget Responsibility warning that sectors dominated by women are likely to face the slowest recoveries.
As of March, 2,124,500 women were on furlough, compared with 1,945,600 men, according to government figures, while in May last year the Institute for Fiscal Studies found that mothers were one and a half times more likely than fathers to have either lost their job or quit since the lockdown began.
With Saturday marking the 51st anniversary of the Equal Pay Act, Marsha de Cordova, the shadow women and equalities secretary, said urgent action was needed to prevent a “two-tier recovery” from the pandemic. “Labour want to see data on the number of jobs created, the impact of the pandemic on the gender and ethnicity pay gaps, and an urgent review of the failing shared parental leave system,” she said.
“Making it illegal to make a new mother redundant during pregnancy and maternity leave, except in very specific circumstances, is a simple, robust way to end discrimination.”
The charity Maternity Action welcomed the move, saying government ministers had been promising reform since January 2017, after research by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found widespread non-compliance by employers. The study found that 11% of mothers – 54,000 working women – lost their job as a result of maternity discrimination each year.
It was “shocking” that the government had not taken action to address the gendered impact of the Covid19 pandemic, identified by the women and equalities select committee, said Ros Bragg, director of Maternity Action.
“With the shelving of the repeatedly promised employment bill, and with women facing a wave of unfair redundancies as the furlough scheme winds down this summer, women need action now,” she said.
The charity also accused the government of falsely claiming that it had made reforms to redundancy policy to prevent discrimination in the 2019 Conservative manifesto, which stated: “We have reformed redundancy law so companies cannot discriminate against women immediately after returning from maternity leave.” Bragg said there was no evidence to support this.
A government spokesperson said: “Pregnancy and maternity discrimination is unlawful and has no place in the workplace, which is why we have already announced plans to extend the redundancy protection period afforded to mothers on maternity leave.
“Our plans will extend the existing redundancy protections to pregnant women and for six months after a mother has returned to work. This will also apply to those taking adoption leave and shared parental leave.”