Monday, March 8, 2010

Irish Examiner: Women on maternity leave targeted by employers

By Catherine Shanahan

Monday, March 08, 2010

WOMEN who are pregnant, on maternity leave or returning to work after having a baby are being illegally targeted by employers engaged in cost-cutting exercises, according to the Equality and Rights Alliance.

The Alliance said discrimination has become more widespread since the recession took hold and includes:

* Cuts to women’s salaries.

* Changes in terms and conditions of employment.

* Withdrawal of full or top-up maternity pay which the employer had previously paid.

Joanna McMinn, chairwoman of the Alliance, said pregnancy-related discrimination was "a very blunt, overt form of unfairness and gender discrimination".

"It is against the law and, despite 30 years of legislation against it, we are seeing evidence that this particular form of discrimination is getting worse because of the recession," Ms McMinn said.

She said women could not be soft targets simply because they took the time out to have a family.

Member groups of the Alliance coalition, including the Free Legal Advice Centres (FLAC) and the trade unions, are tracking an increasing number of calls from women with pregnancy-related employment enquiries and complaints.

In April 2009, the number of queries represented just 1.3% of all employment-related calls. In January 2010, it had increased to 14.3%. Issues reported by women include being guilt-tripped into not taking full maternity leave or not taking the extra unpaid maternity leave; getting a P45 while still on maternity; notice that there is no more work to do upon returning from maternity leave; denial of bonuses due while on maternity; bullying or deteriorating position upon return as a means of "managing them out" and denial of previously agreed work-sharing or part-time work.

The Alliance, a coalition of 130 organisations and activists lobbying for improved equality and human rights, chose to highlight the issue of pregnancy-related discrimination on March 8, International Women’s Day.

The Marie Stopes Reproductive Choices sexual health agency also chose International Women’s Day to launch a new booklet providing information for women seeking abortion advice and treatment.

The launch of the booklet coincides with the publication of new independent research into attitudes towards abortion, conducted by YouGov Plc. The research suggests that the majority of Irish men and women agree that abortion should be permitted in Ireland in some circumstances.

About nine out 10 respondents (87%) agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted, if the pregnancy seriously endangers the woman’s life; more than four out of 10 respondents (41%) agreed that termination of pregnancy should be permitted if the woman believes it is in her and/or her family’s best interest. Only 3% of respondents felt abortion in Ireland is not acceptable under any circumstances.

The Irish Family Planning Clinic (IFPC) welcomed the poll’s findings and called on the Government to "face up to its responsibilities and stop exiling women who are experiencing crisis pregnancies".

Separately, some of Ireland’s leading women writers and feminists will gather at the Dublin Book Festival today to celebrate International Woman’s Day.

This story appeared in the printed version of the Irish Examiner Monday, March 08, 2010