Maternity leave ‘discouraging’ women’s job promotions in UK

July 14th, 2008 - 1:21 pm ICT by IANS  


London, July 14 (IANS) Giving women a year’s maternity leave after the birth of every child is harming their careers, a gender watchdog says. Employers are having second thoughts in employing women or short-listing them for promotions because of the one-year paid leave, according to Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

Commission chief executive Nicola Brewer told The Times that she will shortly call for a serious re-think of the policy.

At present women can avail nine months of paid leave after giving birth to a child. This will rise to a year by the end of the current session of parliament.

Brewer says that calls to the commission’s helpline from women who lost their jobs after becoming pregnant suggest that they are paying a heavy price for their new rights.

She says her fears deepened earlier this year when entrepreneur Sir Alan Sugar claimed that many employers binned the CVs of women of childbearing age.

Business leaders have criticised the new maternity laws, saying that they are a headache for employers and that it is difficult to plan the workforce if parents go part-time. But this is the first time that criticism has come from an organisation that campaigns on behalf of women.

Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality between women and men, says that she shared the commission’s concerns about the effect of legislation on women’s careers. “The government should both better protect pregnant workers and introduce paid parental leave that supports mums and dads to share care.”

Brewer argues that generous maternity benefits have entrenched the assumption that only mothers bring up children and failed to hasten a social revolution where both parents are equally responsible for caring for their family.

British fathers have the most unequal rights in Europe, entitled to only two weeks of leave compared with 52 for mothers. The latest legislation allows for the last six months of maternity leave to be transferred to the father if the mother goes back to work earlier. The way it is framed means it is up to the women to transfer the leave to the man. It is not his right.

Brewer will ask why men should not be entitled to 12 weeks of leave on 90 percent of their earnings following the birth of a child. She says that it was not a case of taking away the new rights from mothers but of extending them to fathers.

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