On Monday 23 May, La Leche League GB’s PR & Media representative, Anna Burbidge, attended a meeting at Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament, jointly organised by Maternity Action and Kate Green, MP, Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities. The panel of Speakers were: Kate Green MP (Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities), Jo Swinson (Chair, Maternity Action) Fiona Cowood (Assistant Editor, Grazia magazine), Debbie Newman (USDAW), Aisha Hoda-Benn, Dawn Sulston and Brett Sulston. Here is Anna’s account:
The aim was to draw attention to the widespread and growing problem of pregnancy discrimination in the workplace. The surprising facts are that one in nine pregnant women in the workplace will lose their job as a result of unfair and unlawful treatment. Three quarters of mothers at work will experience some form of discrimination or negative experience. Almost half will face difficulties in negotiating a safe working environment.
The large increase in Industrial Tribunal fees in 2013 has seen a drop in women able to make an official complaint while there has been a 25% increase in cases taken to the Citizens Advice Bureau.
The discussion heard from shop steward Debbie Newman who has found that while companies may have good policy procedures this doesn’t always get implemented on the shop floor. The Panel also included mothers who had experienced discrimination. They discussed what needs to be done to ensure a safe and secure working environment for all pregnant and new mothers.
Around 45 people attended the debate and they included representatives of other organisations, including the NCT and Royal College of Midwives, and women who wanted to share their experiences.
Support for breastfeeding mothers
LLLGB’s focus in this context is on supporting women who wish to continue to breastfeed after they return to paid work. We welcome any attempts to look at regulations and conditions which will enable women who need to express breastmilk at work or request flexible working, to do so without being treated negatively. Statistics have shown that supporting breastfeeding mothers leads to increased productivity and staff loyalty[i], as well as health benefits for mother and baby[ii].
We would also like to see support for women who decide they would like to stay at home with their babies for longer, and the lifting of pressure to return to work before they want to.
It was agreed that the subject of maternity discrimination has to be kept on the Parliamentary agenda so that progress is not lost. It was suggested women be provided with a leaflet on their rights during pregnancy and how they can get help. It was also suggested there should be a training pack for Union representatives and tear-off sheets for line-managers. LLLGB asked to be keep informed of any developments.
Anna Burbidge, 2016