Link to this page: http://www.socialistparty.org.uk/issue/443/5254
Bosses show their dirty tricks
THIRTY YEARS ago, the 1975 Sex Discrimination gave legal protection to pregnant women. Under current legislation it's automatically unfair to dismiss someone or for them to suffer any other detriment because they're pregnant. Yet discrimination against pregnant women remains rife.
A Citizen's Advice Bureau worker, north London
One pregnant woman asked her manager for maternity leave and pay and was told: "we're not paying that, you can f**k off." Most bosses aren't so crude, but Tips & Advice Personnel, a legal publication aimed at the "cost-effective employer", recently cynically described how bosses can try to avoid employing pregnant women at all.
It's discrimination not to employ a woman because she's pregnant. It's also against the law to ask her if she's pregnant or plans to start a family. Tips & Advice finds this intolerable: "You've finally found the perfect candidate for the job. But given the costly training she'll need to undergo, you're worried she might be pregnant. Is there a (legal) way to find out?"
The journal suggests using a pre-employment medical questionnaire on both men and women to prevent bias claims. "You might want to include a load of innocuous questions then slip in something like 'Are you pregnant?' Don't!" It says that instead bosses should include a question such as "Are you currently under the care of a doctor or other medical professional?" Tips & Advice admits this is just a ruse to establish whether the potential employee, that is woman, is under the care of a midwife.
With gob-smacking frankness it says: "If you then choose not to hire her because she's pregnant, this too will be sex discrimination. Naturally, you'll need to show why she was unsuccessful, e.g. wrong experience."
Last year the Equal Opportunities Commission (EOC) reported on its investigation into new and expectant mothers in the workplace. The report points to an 'appalling' level of pregnancy discrimination.
Each year, almost half of the 440,000 pregnant women in Britain experience some disadvantage at work such as dismissal, demotion, denial of training or promotion, or are bullied into resigning just because they're pregnant. Fewer than 5% will seek advice and only 3% of those who lose their jobs will take their case to the Employment Tribunal.
Equal opportunities and sex discrimination laws were introduced in the 1970s at a time of heightened class struggle. Today this legislation remains meaningless for hundreds of thousands of workers, particularly for those not in trade unions. Anti-trade union laws are enforced vigorously while workers' few employment rights are trampled on.
Real employment protection can only be ensured by a strong trade union movement that recruits the unorganised and unites workers around a campaign for workers' rights. This inevitably means challenging New Labour's big business policies on the industrial front and taking steps to found independent political representation for working people.
In The Socialist 8 June 2006: